21 March 2016

Pocket change

Ten euro and one cent is what this lot set me back. Five beers from Rye River Brewing released under Lidl's cringeworthily named own brand: two of them new, three previously available as four-packs of 33cl bottles but now reformatted to half litres. And all of them a first try for me.

First over the jumps was the 4.1% ABV Crafty Brewing Company Irish Red Ale which looks quite black in that picture but is more a mahogany red-brown in real life. Mild toffee and lightly metallic English hops are the aroma: invitingly, old-fashionedly, beery. I was surprised how sweet it was: a big, gooey, candybar hit of caramel makes the first impact, growing to the point of sickliness. Thankfully it fades quickly. The bitterness kicks in to replace it, but it's unpleasantly acrid: part liquorice rope, part metal pencil sharpener. This tastes like a thrown-together budget red. It's not boring by any means, but I don't think the recipe has been assembled well.

Onwards and upwards, to Crafty Brewing Company Irish Stout. 4.5% ABV and looking every inch the part: black in the middle, garnet round the edges and topped by a pillow of off-white foam. The carbonation is lower than I'd expect for a bottled stout, perhaps trying for some sort of nitro effect, though missing the mark. And once again the flavours don't quite gel together. While not as sweet as the red, there's still a brown sugar or molasses taste -- mild but enough to make my palate recoil slightly. A classy crisp roasted dryness is the other side of the seesaw but it fails to balance the beer properly. Like the red, it's worth paying a little more and trade up to a better example of the style.

I can't remember the last time I had a 50cl bottle of a new pale lager in front of me, and Irish lager has been on a bit of a roll lately -- including the excellent unfiltered pils Rye River had at Alltech last month. So it was with a mix of excitement and tredidation that I came to Crafty Brewing Company Irish Lager. The tiny badge on the label that says it won a Great Taste Award in 2015 provided some reassurance, as did the appearance: the pure pale gold of Helles. One glance and you're in Munich. Late hopping is promised on the bottle and yep, I get that: a slightly oily celery and white pepper flavour right in the centre. But while I would like that to be floating on a billowing soft malt base, there's instead a honking musty off-flavour: dry, acrid and sharply metallic. This is nearly a superb beer but as-is it's one I'd have to drink very cold and very quick. Up against Aldi's Spaten at the same price it doesn't compete.

That concludes round one and, to be honest, I wasn't really expecting to enjoy any of those. What actually got me through the door of Lidl were the newcomers. Rye River does hoppy exceedingly well, from the much-lauded Francis' Big Bangin' IPA to the hugely under-rated Cousin Rosie to its other budget supermarket own-brand Grafters. Simon had already given the thumbs-up to Crafty Brewing Company Irish Pale Ale so I was expecting a next-level experience, even at just 4.5% ABV.

It poured a dark copper colour and shows a mildly zesty citrus aroma. It tastes... decent. There's a firm malt base and although Ella is mentioned on the label, I detect the down-to-earth citric bitterness of Cascade in here. It's definitely on the old world side of new world, reminding me of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in particular, a flavour profile harking back to its roots in English bitter. Worth €1.89? Sure. But it's another beer that I think is worth trading up from.

And speaking of trading up, Crafty Brewing Company Irish IPA, at 6% ABV, is priced a little higher at €2.45. West-coast gold and smelling dankly bittersweet with a bit of liquorice and a bit of guava, achieved with Vic Secret hops, the label helpfully tells us. The texture is surprisingly light, lighter than the Pale Ale. In fact the whole thing is a much more polished experience than any of the others. That darkly bitter liquorice effect is at the centre which means this could easily be classed as the first pale black IPA. There's a gorgeous fresh resinous hop buzz, a dash of tropical passionfruit and maybe an edge of red onion, much like Francis' has when I drink it. There's no sign at all of that strength and its paleness, lightness and low bitterness conspire to make it exceedingly drinkable. This is a superb beer, especially at the price. I don't expect availability to be particularly high once drinkers get wind of it. Be nice and don't hoard.

And if the low prices of these beers leave you feeling a pang of guilt, Rye River's Kickstarter campaign begins today.


  1. Dam, the local lidl didn't have the Irish IPA last time i was in. I must check back and see.

    I wonder if it and Grafters IPA are products of the same fermenter?

    1. I'm not surprised it was gone: I fully expect it to be in short supply on a permanent basis. Fuelling my theory, incidentally, that gentle introductory craft beers for beginner drinkers is a bullshit notion.

      Both pale ales do bear a similarity to their Grafter's counterparts but I'd be surprised if they were from the same batch. The Grafter's IPA is stronger than the Lidl one, for one thing.