There's a jubilation that comes with the Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair that other Dublin beer festivals don't seem to share. Maybe it's the surroundings: the warm, enclosure of the Convention Centre rather than the chilly halls of the RDS. Maybe it's just that the north inner city doesn't attract the same undesirable element you find in Ballsbridge, I dunno, but it's always a happy gig. Rearrangements meant that the trade element of the show was all but dispensed with, the brewers concentrated in one place in the main hall, and their stands were scattered about more pleasingly, rather than arranged in the long corridors of previous years. More pleasingly for me at least; I'd say there were a few blind corners getting less footfall than they deserved.
Anyway, my first stop on the Friday evening was 5 Lamps, just by the entrance. Sarah Finney was pouring a double IPA she'd made for them, called Make It A Double. Yes, mum, I started on an 8% ABV beer. It's a wholesome clear amber colour, dense of texture and smelling a little scarily hot, the sort of thing that tends to put me off the style. But it tastes a lot cleaner: dry, spicy and with a long orange pith finish. Great value on a sip-by-sip basis but there were too many other beers to take it slowly.
My other must-drink was the new one from White Hag, so that was the second stop. Head brewer Joe had a Brett Pale Ale on the go, explaining that it's based on the (magnificent) Mosaic-laden session IPA Little Fawn but fermented entirely with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis 3, in a wine barrel. As far as I recall I don't think I've ever had a 100% Brett beer before. I was presented with a pale yellow sample and raised it to my face, expecting the big farmyard funk that is Brett's signature move. And nope, none of that. It smells and tastes of tinned peaches: an intense sweet fruitiness, juicy and completely clean. I guess the hops and the yeast are making their own contributions to the fruit flavour but together it's a great combination. Definitely a worthwhile experiment.
Dublin-based cuckoo brewery Wood Key has produced a Black IPA as a collaboration with its current host brewery Independent. There was a launch in 57 The Headline a few weeks back which was so successful that the beer had sold out before I got there. But their joint stand at the festival had it pouring so that's where I got to try it at last. And it's a good 'un: plenty of poke at 6.5% ABV, but nicely smooth and balanced, showing a classic green cabbage bitterness with an added peppery bite: Citra, Cascade and Ella are doing the heavy lifting. Then behind them there's a lovely dark treacly roast, enough to keep any stout fan happy. This ranks alongside 9 White Deer's Black Lightning as a great Irish example of the style.
Another catch-up beer was the Autumn IPA from St. Mel's. This is a dark red affair and really does taste autumnal: all sticky, jammy, forest fruits on a warming malt biscuit base. Quite a simple flavour profile, but it works well.
Pulling all the stops out as regards new beer was Kinnegar, with three recent releases. The first I tasted was Flying Saucer, a 7% ABV stout and another quite simple but classy beer. It's beautifully smooth with a soft milk chocolate heart and some lovely light floral topnotes. The other two new ones, pouring on draught, were sour. Browneknowe is brown, of course, and has been aged in a sherry cask. I found it a bit too sweet with lots of sugary candy before it finishes quickly and tartly. There's a crumb of chocolate in the flavour, and a touch of HP Sauce dark fruit. I found it a little sickly and the sourness doesn't really balance the sweetness as well as it might. High Glen was much more my sort of thing: a pale guy with lots of Vic Secret hops. There's a distinct lactic yoghurt tang and then a dank and juicy hop-filled centre. The whole is mouthwatering, refreshing and extremely drinkable despite a burly 6.3% ABV.
There was a handful of new lagers around. I took a bottle of White Hag's Kölsch away with me and I'll get to that in due course, but there was also Wild BatSonic, the final form of Corrib Brewing's California common which has previously been knocking around as a series of pilot brews. This has the classic medium-dark lager profile of wholesome grain husk and a grassy hop finish though with a charming chocolatey bourbon biscuit effect as well. Rye River Unfiltered Lager was similarly classical, though more in the pale pilsner style. Here the grass is damp and freshly cut, simultaneously crisp and softly succulent.
Both Trouble and Whitewater had new dark beers on offer, the former's a session-strength black IPA with added blood orange, brewed in collaboration with O Brother Brewing and, naturally enough, named Blood Brother. It started promisingly enough, with two kinds of zestiness and a chew-sweet candy fruit flavour. But it all kind of tails off after this, turning bland with an unpleasant plasticky residue. Maybe I need to try it again on a cleaner palate, but this didn't do it for me. I quite liked Whitewater's Fiach Dubh, though. It's a straight-up, no-nonsense creamy Irish stout with just the right balance of chocolate and dry roast. Gets the job done.
Two pale ales to finish on for now. I enjoyed Wicklow Brewery's HopKnut, at least in part because it didn't taste like a pale ale. Dortmund-native Mathis has produced something decidedly pilsner-like: crisply dry with a sharp green edge and very sinkable indeed. King Puck by Crafty Divils of Kerry, though brewed at Kelly's Mountain in Kildare, is much more ale-y: full bodied with a heavy citrus hop character; orange cordial sweetness, urinal cake bitterness and a light sherbety texture. Good stuff and apparently selling well in Killorglin.
Another Alltech Brews & Food post coming up next, but without all that tiresome wandering between stalls. Meanwhile, for a more immersive experience, you can watch me interrogating some of the brewers in this episode of the Irish Craft Beer Show.