28 April 2016

All your birthdays at once

My blog turns 11 today, in this year of anniversaries. We've already had Carlow Brewing's 20th birthday beer, and I'm hoping we'll see one from The Porterhouse later as well. But even little tyke Eight Degrees decided to stick a fistful of candles in a cake and release an IPA to celebrate five years a-brewing (you can see a baby photo here. Aww!) With characteristic modesty it's called Nailed It and the stated aim is to be a straight-up, down-the-line, essence-of-IPA IPA.

I'm not used to Eight Degrees beers in bottles so was a little surprised by how hazy it was: that's probably down to clumsy pouring on my part. The aroma is certainly in the Goldilocks zone of IPA perfection, promising messy, juicy mango and passionfruit and spiky pine resin and thick herbal dank. "But where's the grapefruit?" I hear you wail. Fear not, it's right at the front of the flavour, though getting fuzzed a little by the yeast. This acidity and the piney spicing form the centre of the flavour, not leaving much room for the fruit elements, and that pesky yeast adds a harsh savoury tone to the finish that lasts an unpleasantly long time. There's a lovely soft mouthfeel and the strength is a fairly modest 5.8% ABV so really this beer just needs a little cleaning up to be excellent. I'd recommend going for the draught version, if you see it.

I bought my bottle of Nailed It in McHugh's off licence in Kilbarrack, the first time I'd been to either of the highly-rated McHugh's shops. While there I of course took the opportunity to pick up a bottle of their exclusive RoadTrip Extra Stout. This was brewed late last year and is the second in a series which was also prompted by an anniversary: McHugh's 20th. The first was RoadTrip IPA, brewed at Kinnegar, which has found a second life as Kinnegar's own Crossroads IPA. This time around, Independent Brewing of Connemara played host, for a 6.3% ABV stout brewed with a power combo of American hops: Magnum, Chinook and Cascade.

It pours almost imperially thickly and I thought there wasn't going to be any head on it until near the end when I was surprised by a sudden surge of brown foam. This settled back into a luxurious ice cream float of bubbles and a second pour finished the job. The American hops are very obvious from the aroma: a distinct tang of grapefruit skin in with the chocolate and coffee. And this theme continues in the flavour. This time the dark malts are in their rightful place in the stout flavour profile -- high-cocoa dark chocolate is the protagonist: dry, but with a certain oleaginous quality, adding richness -- but it's flanked by spritzy citrus zest, rising from the middle and becoming louder towards the end. Each mouthful starts soft and silky but finishes sharply invigorating. I can imagine some purists having a problem with this brash Americanisation of our national beer style but I've no time for such prescriptivism: this is a magnificent tasting beer showing genuine brewing talent. Not many months after this came out, Independent had a black IPA of roughly the same strength brewed with Wood Key, a gypsy label which includes some of the McHugh's RoadTrippers. I wonder are the recipes related. Either way, I would very much like to see this beer also take a life of its own, as RoadTrip 1 did.

Then, as a surprise birthday bonus, McHugh's sent me a free bottle of the third in the RoadTrip series shortly after it was launched. Staying at Independent, this is RoadTrip Whiskey Barrel Aged Stout. The hop listing is the same as the above and it's only 1% ABV stronger, so I'm guessing it started out as the same beer. But it's been given three months in ex-rum Teeling whiskey casks. Again, the head is slow to form but eventually does so, albeit without so much enthusiasm this time. Chocolate is still the main element of the flavour: darkly bitter and given just a slight spirit and vanilla edge by the whiskey barrel. While the hops aren't as bright and fresh as they are in the other stout they are still present, adding a gently floral rosewater complexity to the centre. After a moment or two the sweetness and fruit fades into the background allowing a more serious dry roasted quality finish things off. While definitely a big beer, it's not so heavy or boozy that it's tough going to drink, and the 500ml serving size is entirely justified. If, like me, you like your barrel-aged beers with just a subtle suggestion of the cask then this is one to add to your want list, though on balance I did prefer RoadTrip 2 with its punchy burst of citrus hops.

And so on to Year 12 and whatever, and wherever, the next beer is.
[swishes cape]

25 April 2016

Brother beyond

The beers from Leeds's Northern Monk Brewing Company are imported to Ireland by the owners of Galway Bay Brewery so it's not surprising that they're a fairly regular feature of the guest taps across the brewery's estate. Against the Grain had what amounted to a tap takeover just before Easter with a slew of monkish offerings on the bar.

Taking the opportunity to tick off the ones that were new to me, I began with Black Arches black IPA. It's a strong 'un at 6.7% ABV and packs in huge amounts of everything. Sweet caramel and treacle occupy the centre, flanked by harshly bitter citrus and oily hop resins. The malt comes back in the finish with a dry cocoa powder effect. There's a lot going on but I found it too discordant to be enjoyable: the dark malt and hops fight with each other and the drinker is left to deal with the resulting mess. Black Arches is a tiring beer that needs a time-out.

Rapscallion (L), Faith (R)
No style was advertised for Rapscallion, only that it's 5.3% ABV and based on a recipe from the 17th century. It's bright orange and smells thickly of liquorice. Different herbs fill out the flavour: I detected lavender in particular, but also the cardamom effect found in Hilden's Barney's Brew. It's not unpleasantly herbal, overall, as long as you manage to keep thoughts of bathwater from your mind. Research indicates that the trick was done with nothing more involved than ginger, coupled with orange zest and lots of UK hops. Right at the end I got a sensation of orange pith showing that the zest wasn't completely lost, but really this is all about those olde worlde herbs. Rather enjoyable, if you like such things, as I do.

Faith is one of the brewery's core range: a US-style pale ale at 5.1%. It's fine: looking identical to Rapscallion with a slightly sweaty tone to its aroma. The flavour is sweet and heavy on the jaffa orange, which I found a little surprising given the brewery's assertion that Citra is the main hop. Like I say: passable, but not terribly exciting; you've tasted this style done better.

And having covered Northern Monk's pale ale I wasn't quite sure what True North was meant to be when I saw it on tap at another Galway Bay pub, The Beer Market. It was chalked up as another pale ale, though this time the strength is just 3.7% ABV. It's a clear gold with a sharply bitter waxy flavour and a surprisingly weighty caramel-sweet malt base. It took me a while to get my head around what I had: the small serving measure and keg dispense were distractions from the fact that this is a straight-up, ey-up, northern bitter, and a rather good one at that. Once I'd figured that out, the classic English orange pith and distinctly Yorkshire honey lacing were perceptible. This is not a beer for fancy glassware; this is one to settle into and quaff by the pint. I'm impressed by how close to a cask classic it tastes when served kegged.

Good beer is good beer, regardless of dispense. But you knew that already.