04 April 2016

The new order

I had been meaning to go on a trip to Belfast for some time, to check out a couple of new pubs which seem to have brought the city's beer offer to a whole new level. When Matt from Boundary Brewing offered me a train ticket to attend their first birthday party, that was all the excuse I needed to turn vague intentions into solid reality, especially since I had yet to taste any of Boundary's beers.

As it happened, a couple of days before I headed up, north coast blow-in Simon was in Dublin and brought a bottle of Boundary Export Stout along with him. This is a 7% ABV whopper but very highly attenuated, leaving it starkly dry with almost a crunch to its roast. Talking to Matt later he said he wasn't happy with the way that particular batch of the stout had turned out, so I'll reserve judgement. But if you like your big stouts to be almost ashen, this could be the one for you.

Simon  was also bearing a bottle of Utopian Stout, the first in the Salamander Series of special editions from Northern Ireland's other co-operative brewery, Lacada. Though only one percentage point stronger than the Boundary one, this presents an altogether richer, more rounded experience. The aroma is a heady mix of sweet, calorific butterscotch and spicy gunpowder excitement. The flavour is more restrained, however: a quality dark chocolate bitterness with some lighter berries and dried fruit. It's all very wholesome and nourishing, as a stout of this strength should be. Cheers for the shares, Simon!

And so to Belfast. Before heading for the Boundary event at BrewBot, I changed trains at Central Station and backtracked to Botanic, for a look at The Woodworkers. I was something of a regular in the Lavery's pub complex in the '90s and was fascinated to hear that they'd recently hived off a part of it to be a craft beer bar. They've done a lovely job too: all bare brick and dark wood with a smoking area on the roof that connects through to the Lavery's pool room. The rotating beer list is well sourced from across the water and south of the border, making great use of Norn Iron's unique position.

I started with a Cloudwater Winter IPA, behind as I am on the Manchester Brewery Everyone Is Talking About™. At 8% ABV it's maybe not the best starter for a day's beering, and it's also quite soupy looking with nothing more involved than mild pine in its aroma. But while there is a very faint savoury tang it wasn't yeast-bitten, only slightly yeast-nibbled, maybe. The flavour is all hop: big and juicy tinned pineapple at the front, bitterer papaya and guava afterwards. I got a fun pinch of white pepper at the very end, but mostly the finish is clean and quick leaving almost no aftertaste. That feature, alongside a medium body and total lack of alcohol heat, makes it dangerously drinkable. The tropical fruit fades a little as it warms, turning to a more serious dank, but it remains a beautifully constructed and enjoyable beer.

Sticking with Cloudwater, my next was Leningrad, 5.2% ABV and described enigmatically as a "tea sour". And it's a strange beast indeed: rough and grainy, like muesli or a cereal bar, the aroma in particular being all oats and nuts. The flavour includes a sugary tea edge on all of this. While complex, it's just not very nice. I began thinking that it might work best as a base for something else: mint, perhaps, or lemons. I don't know what the brewer was intending to achieve with this but it didn't work at all for me.

From Manchester to Liverpool before we leave, and Mad Hatter's Toxteth IPA, a dark orange number at 6.5% ABV. There's a vaguely pithy, spicy jaffa effect in the aroma and a classically grapefruity back-of-the-throat bitterness on tasting. It's a solidly enjoyable IPA but one which provides a very different service to the Cloudwater one we came in on.

And so to the main event. BrewBot on the upper Ormeau Road is a strikingly modern glass-fronted pub. Though the imposing facade makes it look cavernous from the outside, it's more intimate inside: low ceilings, bare wood and leather. A long 20-person table down the middle of the floor is ideal for communal drinking.