30 May 2016

The bottle of the Boyne

I can't believe it was all the way back in January when a bunch of us from Beoir visited Boyne Brewhouse. They were just getting ready to commission the packaging lines in the cavernous former car showroom outside Drogheda -- bottling and canning for their Devil's Bit cider and the forthcoming range of beers. Production on the latter had begun last October with head brewer Áine O'Hora at the helm. It's a big plant, intending to hit the microbrewery limit of three million litres from year one, and incorporating the Boann Distillery, which Áine will also be running. The project is owned and operated by the Cooney family and pater familias Pat took us around, to show where the barrel stores will be, as well as the visitors' centre with restaurant and theatre. It's an immensely ambitious project, but at the same time the sort of perfectly normal attraction you might expect to find abroad, but never here in Ireland. After the walkabout we got tasters of the beers, most of which were still not ready for public view, and I vowed that I'd come back and write about them properly after their release. Ridiculously, and entirely by my own fault, that has taken five months.

Born in a Day was already on the market in draught form when we visited, and I'd previously reviewed the first iteration last summer, when it was still being brewed at White Gypsy, but this is my first proper sit-down with a full bottle. It's an attractive clear and slightly coppery gold, with the loose topping of big bubbles that tells me it won't be over-carbonated. There's a pleasingly beery smell: nothing more complex than orange peel and iced tea. On tasting it's the bitterness that strikes first: orangey in that characteristically Australian way, though without any juiciness. The ethos here seems to be more the invigorating English best bitter than anything new-worldsy. A tight astringency on the finish might put some off but it left me coming back for the next mouthful. There's a toffeeish twang in the background that grows as it warms, creating a risk that it will get a little sickly if allowed warm too much. It's an Australian-style pale ale, so is best consumed damn cold, I reckon. An unsophisticated beer, perhaps, but with a definite no-nonsense charm.

Occupying the red ale space is Pagan's Pillar, badged as a "sparkling copper ale" with a slight nod to Cooper's (why all the Australian references? Áine used to brew at Matilda Bay in Melbourne). The use of Mandarina Bavaria hops for flavour gives a lot of the same orange-and-tannins effect that we found in the pale ale. The difference is a toffee edge sweetening things up a little. It's still ultimately quite a dry beer and there's a light touch of the roast found in better Irish reds, but it's really only a small sideways step from Born in a Day, and is even the exact same strength at 4.8% ABV. To my mind these are essentially the same beer pitched at slightly different markets: the pale ale for the youngster with a global outlook on beer, and the red for their dad, looking for something more familiar. Both are safe solid beers, well made but not likely to excite. Most Irish brewers have a core range like this and they're the ones that pay the mortgage on the breweries.

And finally Long Arm, either a pilsner or a Dortmunder export, depending on whether you believe the front or the back of the label -- Áine insists that export is just pils brewed with hard water. This was nearly finished, but flat, when tasted at the brewery, yet showed enormous promise. It has grown up into a very handsome lager, not too fizzy and bursting with grassy Saaz, the only hop used in it. The bitterness is perhaps just a little high for me, making a somewhat waxy, plasticky distraction, but it's quite effectively drowned out by the aforementioned hops and a smooth golden-syrup malt sweetness. Classical drinkability is the name of the game here and it performs very well at it.

The names, in case you were wondering, are all drawn from Celtic mythology, in keeping with the brewery's location near Newgrange and other points of archaeological interest along the Boyne Valley. I do think it's a little bit of a shame that they don't really speak to the sorts of beers they've been assigned to, being entirely interchangeable.

I think Boyne Brewhouse will do well, and I take it as a positive sign that this cider-maker with designs on the whiskey trade decided it should produce beer as well. It didn't have to. The initial products aren't likely to win them armies of geek fans, but they're three quality offerings being produced in enough quantity to make a noticeable, positive, impact on the market.

27 May 2016

Tastes of summer

It's bright and breezy brews today, for the longer, sunnier days. First up, Metalman Zwickel, the Waterford brewery's take on the German lager style. Though unfiltered it's not specially hazy and pours from the can a pale shade of yellow. The aroma promises hints of grass and lemons though the flavour is much more malt-driven. I get a wholesome and husky grain flavour foremost in the taste, properly smooth with a satisfyingly full body and not too much fizz. The sweetness levels edge towards candyfloss but there's a late smack of serious green bitterness on the finish that holds it in check. It's a beautiful beer, and totally convincing as a German knock-off. And despite the biggish ABV of 5.3%, it deserves to be quaffed in larger quantities: three cans will fill your Maßkrug nicely.

Sticking on the hazy and yellow theme, we have The Púca next, described by White Hag as a "Dry Hopped Lemon Sour". I found it on tap in The Adelphi on Abbey Street, recently refurbished following a short spell as The Jolly Monk and shaping up into a very nice venue. To be honest I didn't find a whole lot of hops in the beer, and the lemon takes a while to show itself, but it is substantially, deliciously, sour. It has that very straightforward tang that you find in Berliner weisse which is supremely refreshing. The lemons lurk behind this, creating an effect very similar to posh cloudy lemonade. A cereal crunch finishes it off. If I wanted to nitpick I'd say it is a little thin of texture, which I guess is perfectly understandable at just 3.6% ABV. But that's a very minor quibble: this is a beaut and perfect sunny day drinking.

 Galway Bay, meanwhile, has a new amber ale on the taps at its bars, named Althea. My pint in Alfie Byrne's arrived a somewhat murky orange colour. It's only 4.8% ABV but is very thick and chewy. There's lots of resinous dank and spicy pepper in the flavour and it almost tastes bright and juicy but there's a savoury fuzz from the yeast in the glass that gives it a much more serious edge. This got more and more pronounced as I moved down the pint, eventually becoming almost brett-like in its muckiness. There's a very good beer lurking in here somewhere but Althea just misses the mark to be worth the €6 they're asking for it. That's what Goodbye Blue Monday cost, and this is no Goodbye Blue Monday. Clean-up required.

Finally, and staying on a hoppy buzz, I chanced across Eight Degrees Citra on a quiet sunny afternoon a few weeks ago in The Hill. This IPA is 5.7% ABV and is very Citra indeed. All the Citra, in fact. Lemon candy meets herbal cannabis in a recently disinfected bathroom. For all the hop action it's surprisingly sweet-tasting, almost sticky, like a half-sucked boiled sweet, though also like resin, I guess. The texture is greasy, in a not unpleasant way. Citra is impressively put together and will keep the hop-lovers happy but one pint was plenty for me. Next in the brewery's Single Hop series is Mandarina Bavaria, which should be hitting taps over the coming weekend.

Regarding this lot, however, the lighter and cleaner beers are definitely my preference for summer drinking. Amber Ale and IPA can wait until the autumn. At the Killarney Beer Festival which starts today and runs to Sunday, look for me under the Púca tap.