18 April 2016

Four of a kind

Multiple, near simultaneous, releases from Galway Bay today. Despite breaking in a new brewer, or perhaps because, they've been hard at it over there.

First to come my way, with no fanfare whatsoever, was Galway Bay Export Stout, badged as a very imperial 10.2% ABV in The Black Sheep, though apparently only around 7.8%, according to the brewer. It doesn't even taste as big as that: the roast is light, the coffee element muted and the alcohol very much behaving itself. This is decent quality drinking for sure, but fans of big stout would likely want more of a bang than it delivers.

Off down the other end of the ABV scale next, and an amber ale called Aikau, at just 4.5% ABV. It's a light and zippy little number, putting fun candy sweetness next to some seriously dense and dank hop resins in a mismatched buddy-cop movie of a beer, and every bit as entertaining. While I do miss the marzipan chewiness that marks out darker and stronger amber ales, I'm also pleased that we're spared the bitter sweaty taste which often comes with. While perhaps not a beer to inspire considered and serious analysis, it's a very nice pint: bringing the session IPA lightness of touch to the amber ale genre. A big shout-out to hop variety Mosaic: the bringer of jollity.

Centrepiece of the busy Galway Bay release schedule was Change of the Guard, a collaboration on a technicality, being jointly brewed by new head brewer Will and his predecessor Chris who has moved on to White Frontier Brewery, high in the Swiss Alps. CotG is badged as a "triple red IPA", the first I've ever met. And yes, it's red in colour -- a hazy pinkish really -- and very high in alcohol at 11.5% ABV. The hops march out in formation right from the start: Simcoe, Chinook and Mosaic again, oozing oily resins with passionfruit juiciness and a volatile note of diesel and onions on the finish. The malt provides a substantial dose of caramel to accompany this, but the beer manages to stay dry and not harsh, hot or sticky. Brewing balance into a beer like this is quite an achievement though I can't help thinking it's sort of its undoing as well. One could level the accusation that it's a bit bland: for all the bigness of the recipe there's nothing that makes it stand out. I've tasted this level of flavour intensity in IPAs half its strength. It's a petty quibble, though: Change of the Guard is quality stuff.

Bringing up the rear is Beneath the Brambles which arrived across the chain late last week. It's a blackberry IPA but there's nothing we can do about that at this late stage. I did my best to hold my scepticism about fruited IPAs in check while I gave it a go in Against the Grain. It's an entertaining orangey-purple colour, thoroughly shot through with haze, resembling pink grapefruit juice more than anything. The blackberries were definitely fresh when they went in as their flavour really dominates the foretaste, sumptuously juicy. It would be lovely if matters ended there, but no, it insists on reminding you that it's an IPA. And it does this with a big, hard and harsh bitterness, metallic tasting and scorching the throat. Every mouthful is a two-act play ending in horrible tragedy. Put on a more neutral base, like a wheat beer or pale lager, this would probably be quite fun. I have no objection to big berry flavours in beer; hell, I'll drink a pint of Früli then order a second, but making fruit fight with hops is just not on. You can get away with it if the base ale is pale and light enough, and the hops and fruit are sufficiently complimentary -- version 1 of BrewDog's Elvis Juice being a good example -- but going in hard and heavy with the hops and then expecting the fruit to enhance this is a mistake, and not an enjoyable mistake.

I understand that the pace of new beers at Galway Bay is set to continue, and that we can expect more fruited IPAs too. Well come on, then. Let's get it over with.