09 May 2016

Rapid fire

The special edition beers are fairly flying out of Carlow Brewing these days. They have two one-off series running in tandem and a moment of near-synchronicity between them meant that I got the latest from each in a single box, courtesy of the brewery, on Friday afternoon.

From the 20th anniversary series comes 'OPsession, a 4% ABV session IPA. In recent months this has become one of my favourite beer styles, with White Hag's Little Fawn leading the field. I'm always on the lookout for a beer that can better it. 

The first surprise here was the colour: expecting pale and yellowy, I found it the copper shade of a vintage French cider. And almost as tannic too: the first sip delivers a strong astringency that won't really let much else past. It even smells like heavy black tea. What's not present in any of this are the hops. The label mentions citrus but I can't imagine the copy was composed after the beer came out of the brewery filter because there is no citrus character of which to speak here. There is a certain level of bitterness in the finish, but again it's that tannic astringent sort, rather than anything bringing hops to mind. If feeling charitable I might describe this as a decent example of dry English bitter, albeit in a fizzier-than-usual form. But those of us who have become accustomed to Little Fawn, Via Maris, Rollover and the like will not find anything recognisable in this session IPA, sadly.

The other series is O'Hara's Hop Adventure and the latest addition is Aramis, a relatively high-alpha French hop of Alsatian and English pedigree. The beer spec is the same as its predecessors -- a 5% ABV pale gold IPA -- but once again the hop adds something very distinctive to the drinking experience. My first thought on tasting was creamy and I couldn't think why. Most likely it's a noble hop characteristic, that it reminds me of first-rate Bavarian pils, which are all about that soft creamy taste. The label mentions spices and I get a certain amount of that too: the cedar and nutmeg you find in Belgian tripels and their ilk. I also get a sort of weissbier-like banana effect, strange in an IPA but not off-putting or unpleasant, and definitely part of the hop's business rather than something up in the fermentation: the underlying beer is perfectly crisp and clean.

This is a subtle and interesting one. You can roll the flavours around and find different things with each sip -- coconut? chilli? blackcurrant? melon? -- but if you want to drink it down as an easy-going pale ale there's nothing in the profile loud enough to prevent you from doing so. Certainly, the mission of the series to show off the variety of flavours available in the world of hops is fulfilled.

One missed step and one unique perspective: a reminder of why variety is so important to the beer drinker, and not just the one with a blog to fill. Thanks to the Carlow crew for the bottles.


  1. I'm glad you thought that about Opsession. I had it at BCBF last month and thought the very same. Others loved it though...

    1. Yep, I'm sure it suits plenty of people. There are no flaws in how it was brewed.