The National Homebrew Club held its second annual Brewing Convention in Dublin last month. El Presidente Thomas invited me to the after party in the neo-Gothic splendour of Smock Alley Theatre's Banquet Hall. YellowBelly had brewed a beer especially for the day. As a non-member of the NHC, I can't comment on the appropriateness of its name: Keyboard Warrior. Declan is manning the taps there and he cheekily described it as a 6% ABV session IPA. It's certainly sessionable in the sense that the flavours are a little muted. I found it quite English-tasting, with subtle notes of orange blossom and a light pithiness. A dry, tannic centre ensures drinkability. If I were making IPA for an assembled mass of home brewers I'd probably have gone more for the hop wow factor, but maybe that's the point.
Back from travels in Spain and England, Steve came bearing bottles he had picked up along the way. The first being passed around was The Matador from Flying Monkeys brewery in Ontario. It's a deep red colour, rather murky, and both smells and tastes like a bathroom cabinet circa 1978. The Great Smell of Brut™ is hardwired into my brain, and those wires lit up with just a smell of this. For the record, it's a dark rye ale, aged on cedar, coming out at 10.1% ABV, but all you need to know is that it tastes like stale cheap cologne, is napalm-thick and damn near undrinkable.
This was followed by yet more cedar, in the form of El Cedro, described by brewers Jester King as a "hoppy cedar-aged ale with brettanomyces". Now this is more like it. The brett aroma is huge and stinkily beautiful, the honking funk just pitching slightly towards tropical fruit, before going full-on peach and pineapple when tasted. The cedar gives it just a gentle and complementary pepper buzz. And the slightly sour (but not tart) brett farmyard character is there too. All big flavours, but popping together in sublime harmony. Beautiful, and fun to boot.
Last of the big bottles in circulation was Wild Beer Co.'s Beyond Modus II (The Blend, Winter 2015), offering yet more barrels and brettanomyces. The base beer is a mixed fermentation sour ale, and that is still very much what it's doing. I was reminded a lot of Rodenbach, though it's bigger and chewier than Rodenbach classic while not as aggressively vinegary as Grand Cru. There's a wonderful balsamic cherry effect, as well as a heady dose of earthy brett. The biggest surprise is that it's only 6% ABV -- it's so complex I was expecting a few points more. But I'm not complaining: this is fine drinking and another lovely example of the sour and the funky performing well together.
We finish on a beer Thomas himself brought to the party, BrewDog's AB:13, a cherry imperial stout brewed in 2013. I got massive autolysis from this: soy sauce in spades, alongside cocoa powder, raisins and chocolate syrup. There's quite a sherry buzz as well, the grapes turning a bit Pedro Ximinez on it. More than anything it reminded me of Samuel Adams Triple Bock, though thinner and less coherent. Perhaps this was better when fresher but I don't think it has aged well.
And then it was back to the homebrews: Brendan's rauch märzen was my favourite of the day. We're in for a treat when that guy goes commercial.
Thanks to all who brought beer on the day, and to the hospitable organisers who put on a very impressive event. Plans have been hatched for 2017 and it sounds like it'll be even better.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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