22 April 2016

Meanwhile, down at the pub

The newest trend in Dublin's beer scene is one that's caught me by surprise but is pleasing to see. For the first time, pubs are being acquired by breweries other than the producers who primarily sell via their own outlets. The ball began rolling with Carlow Brewing taking on Brewery Corner in Kilkenny, and Carrig has had The Barrelstore in its native Carrick-on-Shannon for a while, but now Carrig has opened a new location here in the capital.

Bar Rua occupies a grand Tiger-era construction on Clarendon Street: a stack of modest-sized bar rooms mixing quiet corners with open spaces and commanding lovely views of the busy streetscape outside. The selection is varied, including beers from several Irish producers and an international craft selection as well. There's the full Carrig range, of course, and a house beer: Rua IPA.

As befits the name, it's red, and slightly hazy with it. And perhaps unsurprisingly there's a touch of amber ale to the flavour: caramel malt to the fore, contrasting neatly with an assertive citrus bitterness. The body is light, making it an easy-drinking inoffensive offering, as is appropriate for a house beer. While it's refreshing and quaffable, if you want an interesting beer to take time over it'll serve that purpose quite happily as well.

And what makes this a trend rather than an incident is the news that Meath's Brú Brewery will soon be operating Smyth's of Fairview as a tied house. I look forward to seeing how they handle the on-trade. I'm thinking cask, and plenty of it.

Brehon Brewhouse doesn't own a pub as yet but availed of the facilities at 57 The Headline to host a special evening for a special version of its special new beer. Brehon Rising imperial stout (another 1916 beer) was brewed to be mostly sold in 75cl boxed bottles. But, after ageing in whiskey barrels, a few gallons were racked off into an oak cask and that's what was put in the bar a few weeks ago.

The effect was interesting, and unexpected. There was no whiskey character to speak of, and only a small bite of oakiness. The main feature in both the aroma and flavour was sherry. Not the dry white sherry effect of oxidation, but the round, fruity flavour of good Oloroso. There is an Irish coffee warmth to it -- hardly surprising at 10%+ ABV -- and it leaves a sweet brown sugar deposit on the lips. The finish is quick and the texture light, making it a very drinkable sort of monster. It would be very easy to forget it's meant to be a sipper. While enjoyable now, I'd say it's one that will age well in the bottle for a year or two.

That wasn't the only surprise of the evening. There was an unexpected new beer as well: Brehon Pale Ale, an easy-drinking 4.5% ABV golden coloured chap. It shares a jaffa orange character with its big brother Stony Grey: a spicy, oily jasmine perfume kind of vibe, and then a bitterer pith in the finish. The low strength belies a full and almost chewy body, even though it's definitely the hops not the malt to the fore. The bitterness is perhaps a little severe for my taste, but it's a decent, well-balanced and sessionable pint and fills an obvious gap in the Brehon range.

Lastly for this round-up, and with no pub connection other than the fact I drank it in one, Huck, a new saison from O Brother. When Padhraig (one of the titular Brothers) told me that their forthcoming saison was going to be 6.5% ABV I winced a bit. Strong fruity saison rarely does it for me and I much prefer the crisper, lower-strength sort. So I was apprehensive when I got an entire pintful in The Beer Market. And yes, it's big on the esters that can make saisons tough drinking, but there's plenty in this beer's favour that left me smiling at the end. Most of all it's the zest: a biting, witbier-like orangey spritz that helps clean up the worst of the alcohol excess. There's a crunchy dry wheatiness spiced up by a white pepper character which is enough to place it in the saison good books, and a juicy honeydew melon effect which isn't the most difficult of Belgian fruity flavours to deal with. While definitely too heavy to be considered refreshing, it is a rewarding beer to drink and, ABV aside, few hardened saison fans will find much to dislike in it. Huck gets a qualified thumbs-up from me.