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.

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