We don't have celebrity brewers in Ireland, for very good reasons, but if we did, Alex Lawes would be a candidate. From award-winning homebrew before winning awards for homebrew was really a thing, a spell at James's Gate, to Rye River where his tenure as head brewer has seen some of the best hop-forward beers Irish brewing has produced arriving and making waves, both under the brewery's own McGargle's brand, and the two supermarket house labels it produces. So it's entirely unsurprising that there's been a buzz about the first beers under his own solo marque, Whiplash.
"Brewed under contract for Whiplash by Whiplash at Rye River Brewing" explains the copy on the label: the honesty of the text offers refreshment before I've even taken a mouthful. Scaldy Porter is the first one I opened, a 33cl bottle at 5.5% ABV. It's a thick beast, glugging slowly out of the bottle to become a dense black glassful topped by a dark tan head. Roast looms large in the aroma, and that dark -- almost burnt -- character is the centre of the flavour. Around it orbits an array of other tastes, nothing outré, but it's unusual to find so many in a single beer. You get strong espresso, a milky creaminess, bitter dark chocolate and some chewy butterscotch toffee. It's all rather serious and there's an acridity in the finish that doesn't exactly invite the next sip. The label describes it as a "robust" porter; I'd say downright surly. While definitely tasty and well-made, you do need to be in the mood to do battle with this one. Easy drinking it isn't.
A change of format for its fraternal twin: portentiously-titled Surrender to the Void double IPA comes in a shiny monochrome can styled like one of them high-art Danish contract brews. It's 8.5% ABV and beautifully clear, a pale orange-gold. From the get-go it's another complex one. Various hop elements vie for superiority in the aroma, loudest among them the juicy mandarin and viscous pine resin. There's nothing viscous in the texture however. Though the carbonation is low and strength high, it has a fantastic light touch, the warmth only really becoming apparent after a few swallows, and happening in the belly rather than the mouth. Assuming the best-before is a year from canning, mine had spent a mere week in the tin before I drank it, which goes some way to explaining just how banging the hop flavour was. Bitter pine is the first impression, but it steps off after only a second letting sweeter zesty orange oils come through, lightening further to tangerine and mango. This fades quickly leaving a sticky marijuana funk as the finish. The malt base is... there, somewhere, probably, but you don't really get to taste it: Surrender to the Void is a beer with a hop obsession and wants to share it with you, loudly and at length. Alex received big plaudits for McGargle's Francis' Big Bangin' IPA and I hope this one gets equal attention. It's a better beer, in my opinion, and I'm not the sort of beer geek who thinks that you just need to up the ABV and add more hops to achieve that. There's a roundness and a nuance to Surrender that's rare in strong and hoppy Irish beer but which this pulls off neatly. If anyone fancies putting it in a blind taste against Galway Bay's Of Foam & Fury I'd be interested to see the result: I think the contention would be very close.
So that's Whiplash: another front on which Irish beer is rendering imports increasingly unnecessary.
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