10 June 2016

Nordie boys

These two are the last of the haul from my most recent trip to Belfast, acquired in the excellent but poky Vineyard off licence on the Ormeau Road.

My first impressions of Hillstown's beers are here, and The Spitting Llama was missing from the set I bought last year. It picked up an award at the 2015 Killarney Beer Festival so I was particularly keen to give it a go. The style is billed as Belgian golden ale, though a little weaker than your Duvel or the like, at just 7% ABV. It's also, like Wednesday's beer, not golden at all, arriving a murky red-brown and looking tired and undercarbonated. No marks for presentation, then. The aroma is a powerful solvent buzz -- whiteboard markers and paint-thinner -- which doesn't bode well, though suggests at least that it's as strong as the label claims.

Its flavour is more nuanced though still doesn't deliver anything like a Belgian golden ale. The headache-inducing solvent is still there but it softens into pear and lychee fruit while a balancing dry cereal husk adds a rustic quality. It's still pretty tough drinking, however: half a litre was a lot to get through and there was no escaping its homebrewish qualities. I don't think it's infected as such, but this isn't a well-made beer and despite some farmhouse charm I can't bring myself to say I enjoyed it. I'd love to see what the jury of experts at Killarney wrote about it.

After a bad run-in with an infected Farmageddon IPA early last year I have been cautiously finding my way back to the County Down co-operative brewery. My last couple of experiences with their beers were positive so I didn't think picking up the Citra IPA was that much of a gamble, even with that hefty £4 price tag.

First impression was of a very clean beer: a pure pale gold with a flavour that's all hop and no interference. That said, it is Citra, which gives it a bit of a lemon washing-up liquid effect, and the taste is a little one-dimensional this way, as single-hopped beers sometimes are. The body is full, though I was surprised to discover that the ABV is 6.7% as there's no heat or heaviness: any difficulty in drinking this guy comes from those lemony hops alone. But it's not difficult to drink, it's just a little dull, wanting for the spicy piquancy I know Citra can deliver. Is it fair to criticise an all-Citra beer for tasting like Citra and nothing else? The beer that kept popping into my head was Fyne Ales Jarl, another super-pale Citra vehicle that somehow manages to deliver a lot more complexity at a smaller ABV.

All told, not a great showing from the Ulstermen there. Hillstown still needs to work on the technical side of its process and I think Farmageddon could do with making a few tweaks as well.