29 June 2016

Taste this

I mentioned in Monday's post how microbreweries don't seem to take their own stands at Taste of Dublin any more. It is, I'm sure, a very expensive event to attend, and while you're likely to reach a crowd of punters who are probably not already familiar with your product, I would question how much repeat trade you're likely to get out of them once the tents are folded and the Iveagh Gardens returned to the citizenry.

Across the park from Diageo's Open Gate Brewery, Alltech had a similar landmark bar for its Station Works and Lexington breweries. From the former there were two new beers, including the latest in the Foxes Rock range, Foxes Rock India Pale Lager. Now, I will admit at the outset that I don't really get this style. There's enough of a hoppy buzz in any properly made pilsner so why go chasing after the IPA crowd with this neither-fish-nor-fowl type of beer? Oh yeah: money. OK then. Would any brewer care to admit to brewing an IPL for the sheer love of it?

Abstract witterings aside, real life FRIPL is 5.2% ABV and a highly attractive deep gold colour. It definitely misses its step on the lager front: the body is too heavy, with very ale-like esters and no crisp lager cleanness. And nor is the flavour a good example of IPA: it's floral-sweet and intensely sharp, like the taste of perfume, and that lasts long into the finish as a cloying, abrasive bitterness. It seems like a beer that doesn't quite know what it's supposed to be but it definitely isn't fun to drink.

The other new Station Works beer is brimming with fun, however. It's brewed, I believe, for the Cremin & Radley distribution company and is marketed under the new Bartleys brand. No prizes for guessing what fruit juice has been added to Strawbeeri, and especially not if you've tasted it. It's very strawberry, and extremely sweet. A soft texture adds to the jammy effect and it reminds me a lot of that Belgian classic Früli. Subtle as a brick through the greenhouse window but it hit my sweet tooth just right.

Molson Coors had also staked out a claim for Franciscan Well where I had just a swift pint of their Summer Saison. This is a modest 5% ABV with an invigorating pear-skin edge and an almost velvety smoothness. Very easy drinking and great for a mid-point palate refresh.

On then to the Dunbrody House complex in the corner of the park. Here the hotel had set up a mini lecture area for Chef Dundon to talk barbecue, the restaurant had the standard three-dish offering that all the other Taste participants had, and down one side Dunbrody's on-site brewery, Arthurstown, was pouring a mix of regulars and specials. Arthurstown American IPA was apparently served at Killarney this year but I missed it. It's a 6% ABV bruiser, quite a hazy pale amber and apparently only uses a little bit of Sorachi Ace, which surprised me because it tastes and smells almost one-dimensionally coconutty to me. Light and clean with it, however, and other people I thrust it at found it dank and complex so it must just be me who got hit with the coconuts. De gustibus non est disputandum. Either way, I enjoyed it, and especially the lightness of touch it showed on quite a big ABV.

The remains of the afternoon played out at the Premier International Beer Heaven stand, a fixture of Taste quite possibly since year one. From a distance I had been wondering which new American brewery was responsible for the distinctive paddle-like tap handles but closer inspection revealed it to be Bavaria's own Maisel, going full yank with its craftish range. Among them: Maisel Pale Ale, simple and fun with the clean bitterness of a real American pale ale but wearing more of a German costume up front in the form of a green celery hop bite; Maisel India Ale raises the ABV from 5.2% to 6.3% but hits pretty much the same flavour points, except more of them. The strength is well hidden, however. And best of the lot was Maisel Choco Porter, a lovely balancing act of sweet milky chocolate and dry roasted malt, rich and full while staying clean and drinkable, and all done without the addition of any non-Reinheitsgebot additives. Impressive, but also lovely to just knock back. Except it's 6.5% ABV.

And because we weren't wobbly enough already, Dean broke out the good stuff before we left, starting with a bomber of Widmer Brothers Brrrbon '12. This 9.4%-er is a mucky orange colour and smells of vanilla and lime, meaning the brewery definitely got its money's worth out of that bourbon barrel. It's smooth at first but a growing sweetness makes it more and more difficult to drink as it goes along. I found myself struggling desperately to appreciate its intensity before realising that I just actually don't like it.

It was followed by Widmer Brothers Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout '12 which was much better. Here the 9.3% ABV is better hidden and the raspberry is used to full effect, in both the aroma and the flavour. You get lots of chocolate and lots of tart juicy fruit in both, while the base beer is dry and remarkably light. The hopping is generous too and this does fight a little with the raspberry acidity but the overall picture holds together coherently: bold, but not overdone.

And speaking of overdone, that's the bit where I nabbed a last glass of Open Gate 1516 pils before the shutters came down there and stumbled out into town and around the corner for a comedown pint of Via Maris at Against the Grain.

Lots and lots of beer is definitely my preferred methodology for tackling a food festival.

27 June 2016

Party at Artie's

It's noteworthy, though hardly surprising, that the Taste of Dublin food festival seems to have become largely a preserve of the big bucks brewers. The last time I went, which admittedly was some years ago now, there were at least a handful of micros present in their own right but this year Arthurstown Brewery was the only independent on the list, and I'm sure they're not short of a bob or two.

Diageo was bringing its Open Gate roadshow to the 2016 gig and to mark the occasion, before the festival opened, recruited a few of the food producers also exhibiting into their bar and then unleashed a swarm of hungry media types at them. The highlight for this attendee was Shuck, a London oyster bar soon to be opening in Dublin, which was serving amazing oysters from Harty's of Dungarvan, each the texture -- and damn near the size -- of perfectly rare fillet steak.

There were two new beers on the bar to try and the one they had chosen to pair with the event was Strawberry Porter, a light 4.3% ABV guy with added bonus basil. Cold from the keg, served on straight CO2 rather than nitro, it tastes like a very simple and plain stout. Peter the brewer says a very large amount of strawberries went in, and a nutribullet gave its life for the trial batch alone, but I could barely taste them. There's just a gentle pink oily tang and the ghost of herbal greenness in the finish from the basil. I'm not sure I'd know either was there without being told in advance.

As a parting gift, us freeloaders were given growlers, so I got the chance to try it all over again at the preferred serving temperature of Beer Nut Towers, which is rather higher than at St. James's Gate. There was a lot more strawberry in the aroma this way, and a growing strawberry juice flavour, peaking as it approached room temperature. Under it there's your normal pint-bottle-off-the-shelf Guinness and this provides a decently neutral base. If the recipe ever goes any further, warm, strawberry-infused, pint bottles for the oulfellas would be the way to go.

The second beer was called Tropical IPA and it, pretty consistently, came served with an apology. The Open Gate staffers are aware it's not very tropical and want to point that out before you do. There was, apparently, a decent tropical fruit flavour from the conditioning tanks but it looks like somewhere along the filtering and pasteurising process, that character was lost. Unexpected! But that's the benefit of having an experimental brewery: you can learn how to make your beer better. If you want to.

Anyway, it's a dark copper colour, 5.5% ABV and hopped with a combination of Galaxy and Hüll Melon. The texture is heavy, and e