29 July 2016

Draught picks

Time for an overdue look at some of the random stuff showing up on tap around Dublin in recent months.

We'll start with Galway Bay, and their Solemn Black double black IPA has been at large for a couple of months now. I found it when it was still brand new, in The Beer Market. 8.5% ABV and €5.40 for a 33cl glass are your vital statistics. The aroma is convincingly zesty for such a dark powerhouse of a beer: there's a citrus quality which is lighter than grapefruit, offering more of a lemon and lime thing. On tasting, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's sweet at first, the dark malts infused with lemon sherbet. Then there's a rush of harder bitterness: the tar, cabbage and molasses that are standard issue for beers like this. Amazingly, despite the resinousness of its hop bittering, none of it sticks to the palate and the aftertaste returns to that light and effervescent sherbet effect. It's a very impressive beer: super-serious but with a lovely spark of fun to it.

Galway Bay's subsequent release was Acid Mother, billed as a lime gose, and quite substantial at 5.4% ABV. It arrived looking forlorn and headless, a moody dark gold colour. Perhaps in keeping with the name, the first sip gave me a vivid and unsettling flashback: Rose's Lime Cordial, the sticky green stuff that used to come in the glass bottle with the embossed lime leaves on it. That. It's not subtle and comes through so loud and brash it almost doesn't taste like it's part of the beer; like it was squirted in as an afterthought. I got a rough, papery, oxidised twang in the finish, while in the middle a massive punchy sourness. A token saltiness is barely present and you can cancel any plans you had to taste coriander. This rather severe and unrefined beer doesn't meet the stylistic points for gose for me, nor is it relaxing or particularly enjoyable to drink. Loud and spiky, my time with it was spent wishing it would calm down.

Moving away from the brewery, but staying in its pubs, a pint of Trouble Brewing's Hello Sunshine session IPA in Against the Grain. Though a mere 3.7% ABV this is a deep and rather lurid Lucozade orange. As usual when trying a new Irish pale ale I made the correct incantations to appease the beer gods and ward off yeast bite but I must have got the words wrong because -- bleuh! -- yeast bite. And it's one of those beers which is a real shame to find pouring dirty, because behind it there's a lovely balance of sweet mandarin juice and invigorating grapefruit and lime bitterness. It's not thin or watery either, which is all to the good. But that raw savoury overcoat in which the whole thing is wrapped really spoiled it for me. There was very little sunshine in evidence on my barstool.

White Gypsy also had a new one on tap at AtG recently, a 7% ABV stout called Old Smoke. When the pub tweeted it was on I made a beeline. I have very fond memories of the supremely peaty stout that Cuilán brewed at Messrs Maguire in 2007 and I harboured a flickering hope that this might be a recreation. But it's not; it's much more subtle and mature and I doubt any peated malt was used. The base is a very good, full-bodied, export-style stout -- soft, comfortable and rounded, even on keg. Smoke wafts around the edges of this, grazing the lips and sides of the tongue. Some sweeter caramel and molasses are present and just a tiny hint of Laphroaigish phenols. Though not hot, it's plenty warming but in such a way that isn't too much, even in a busy pub on a summer afternoon. Overall, Old Smoke is balanced, complex and drinkable: an all-round class act.

The final two beers for now are parts two and three of Eight Degrees's latest Single Hop Series, following on from the Citra one I mentioned back here. Representing Europe in the sequence is Mandarina Bavaria, arriving across the counter in 57 The Headline disguised as a Rascal's beer. Like the others in the series it's 5.7% ABV and, unsurprisingly, orange features big in this beer, starting with the colour. It's quite sticky with hop resins and a lot of the flavour coming out of that is intensely oily orange skin. As this builds I found it shifting sideways into the coconut flavour more usually associated with Sorachi Ace hops. There's a reminder of Mandarina's German roots too, in a very noble herbal flavour as well. That sticky quality means that the finish is a long one, the exotic oranginess hanging around on the palate for ages. For all its foghorn loudness it's a lovely beer and you come away from it with a very clear grasp of what this hop variety is and does.

Unsurprisingly, many of the same qualities can be found in Eight Degrees Galaxy which I located at Bar Rua a few weeks ago. Galaxy is another hop I'd tend to associate with juicy orange fruit, but seemingly not when it's ramped up to the intensity that the brewers have here. This guy is supremely dank, so thick with resins you could tapdance across the surface, creating a bitterness that sucked the malt out of my neighbours' pint glasses. This is a hoppy beer. When some flavour eventually emerges from under the bitterness it's grassy green at first, and then a zesty pith which lasts long, once again, into the aftertaste.

Part of me was disappointed that it didn't really taste of Galaxy, the way that the previous two, intense as they also were, tasted very much of their signature hop. At the same time, however, this edgy and uncompromising IPA stands on its own feet as a beautifully rendered face-stripping hop bomb, and it's nice to give one's palate the occasional shock.

27 July 2016

Out for the count

Derry's Northbound Brewery names most of its beers after their International Bittering Unit levels. I've never been a fan of IBUs as a useful measure of anything you can taste, but I suppose it does give some sort of prior impression of a beer.

70 is the highest they've gone so far and, unsurprisingly, is the name of an IPA, hopped with Magnum, no less. Despite the implied power it's just 5.5% ABV and bottle conditioned so pouring out a hazy orange. The aroma is an alluring mix of sweet orange flesh and herbal bathsalts but it's not quite as interesting to taste. Those 70 IBUs are definitely present: sharp and acidic. The orange zest manifests after a moment or two, an intensely serious citrus spritz, burning the tongue slightly. But the finish is a long and dirty yeast burr, something that doesn't exactly spoil the beer but does put a dampener on the more fun new world hop flavours.

Cleaned up this would be a zesty beaut but it's hard to love in bottle-conditioned form.