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 even greasier when served slightly warmer from the growler. There's a lot of old-fashioned bitterness, a bite that reminds me of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but not much complexity beyond this: a burst of pith and some mildly pleasant tannins. Not a bad beer by any means -- sinkable and refreshing when cold -- but failing to excite, whatever the name says.

The next beer made its début at Taste of Dublin itself, for which Diageo kindly stumped up a pair of tickets. Botanical Ale, I suspect, has escaped the filters' attention because the plastic cupful I got was a thoroughly unpleasant-looking murky red-brown colour. The aroma was lovely though: an Italian-smelling blend of pizzaish dried herbs promising a drinking experience beyond the usual.

The base seems to be a pretty straightforward red ale, 5% ABV, dry and slightly roasty. But you don't get much of a look at it before the huge explosion of herbs kicks in. I didn't catch the full list of add-ins but the oily greenness of sage is obvious at the centre while around it I got elements of basil, rosemary and peppercorns, some of which may actually have been used. And while the herb flavours are definitely the main feature, assertive even, they're not overdone nor do they make this a difficult beer. It's fun, balanced and complex, just the way I like my gimmicky beers to be.

More from the rest of Taste 2016 later this week.

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