We're back at the 2016 Alltech Brews & Food Fair today. Probably the most interesting stand for the hardened beer geeks was that of Soulwater, an offshoot of the Clada Group, a Galway-based distributor which had already made a name for itself as the gatekeeper of exciting imports like Buxton, Wild Beer, Lervig and Green Flash. Now they've expanded into production and Shane O'Beirne, formerly head brewer at the Beerd craft wing of Bath Ales, was there to introduce his latest creations, both brewed at JJ's in Co. Limerick.
Soulwater Renegade is an American-style amber ale, only 5.3% ABV but squeezing a lot into that. The aroma is dank and acidic, and the slightly severe bitterness carries through into the flavour, at least at first. There's a warmer, rounder red fruit character at the centre, a soft chewy core that makes the whole thing much more accessible, and then just when you think you've tamed it, a sharp waxy bite finishes it off. I tend to prefer this style to be sweeter but fans of the harsher red IPA style that seems to be en vogue at the moment will enjoy this.
Renegade's stablemate is an IPA called Mutiny: 6.2% ABV and quite weighty with it, showing a kind of bready or even spongecake-like sweetness. The hops, again, are mostly sharp and bitter, with a fun squeaky greenness and just a suggestion of juicier mandarins. It's another one I'd probably tweak to soften the hop flavours a bit but it's definitely a well-made beer.
I took the opportunity to try three new ones from Buxton while I was hovering around the stall. One was Ring Your Mother, a nineteenth century mild (not my first), so golden coloured and strong as hell: 9.5% ABV in this case. Richard, in passing, described it as "the best bad beer I've ever had". I'm not sure I'd be so charitable. There's a fierce bang of acetone in the aroma and it tastes very hot, with additional banana esters. It's just about drinkable, but not something I'd go for by choice. A novelty, but not an especially fun one.
For fun, there's Gooseberry Cove, a sour pale ale. This 4.7%-er has a lovely gose-like tartness, rounded out and balanced by sweet fruit. There's a very slightly harsh plasticky burr on the end but that could have been down to the beaker I was drinking it from. This sort of medium-strength slightly tangy pale ale is becoming a bit of a favourite with me. Fruit optional.
Finally a beer I'd been looking forward to trying since I missed it at Borefts last year: the Buxton/Omnipollo Yellow Belly "peanut butter biscuit" imperial stout. What's not to like, even if it does contain neither peanuts nor butter nor biscuits? I poured the bottle and took the contents to a quiet corner, joined by Brian and Nigel. Brian filmed our gibberings for the Irish Craft Beer Show so they may show up there in full technicolour.
Even on the way from the bar, with no more than a gill in my cup, I could tell what sort of beer this was. It smells like diabetes: shudderingly, gaggingly sweet. The texture is extremely thick and unctuous, not surprising at 11% ABV, but the vast quantities of residual sugar make it seem even denser. The flavour isn't particularly complex: if you've hoovered all the Crunchie bars from your sisters' selection boxes, or maybe had one too many of your mother-in-law's caramel squares, you'll be familiar with what it does: milk chocolate, caramel and honey. All the sticky. A tang of molasses is the nearest it offers by way of balance, but even that is more sticky sweetness. There's just not enough beer character here for it to be enjoyable. It's silly and fun, perhaps, but €10 a bottle in the off licence drains the joy out of that. I'm glad I've tasted it but I won't be springing for any of the variants.
And with my palate suitably overwhelmed, that's where we leave the festival for this year. Special thanks to Maeve, Tracey, Aoife and the whole Alltech team for looking after all of us valuable influencers, and of course to the brewers who brought such varied and interesting beers. Same time next year?
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