31 August 2016

Lagered up

It's possible we're in a bit of a golden age (wahey! puns!) for Irish lager. There are a lot of good ones around at the moment and brewers seem less afraid of adding them to the roster. This post is about the most recent ones to cross my path.

The first is by O Brother who so far in their short life have given us a Sinner, a Chancer, a Dreamer and a Fixer. The newest in the sequence of archetype beers is The Wanderer, described on the badge as a dry hopped pilsner at 5% ABV. It's a bright, almost lurid, yellow colour and was served in The Beer Market very cold and with rather low carbonation. I also got a touch of off sourness, though couldn't say whether that was in the beer or the dispense. However, none of this is a problem because the flavour is big and bold enough to distract from any and all flaws.

I had been expecting citrus and whatnot: "dry hopped" tends to mean "we're going for the American IPA angle" around these parts. But nope, it's classic pilsner all the way through. Most of all it's a hugely punchy lemon and waxy bitterness, riding high on the light malt base. A real five-alarm wake-up call for the palate.

Black Donkey's Western Warrior is a rather more understated affair. It made its Dublin début at the brewery's second birthday party in 57 The Headline a couple of weeks ago. This beer is identical to the flagship saison Sheep Stealer, just fermented with a lager yeast rather than a saison one, so the grain bill includes wheat and the hops are an unlagery blend of East Kent Goldings and Styrian Goldings. Rédor, the pils by Dupont was, if not an inspiration certainly an encouragement. The two breweries share a similar water profile, Black Donkey's Richard tells me.

The end result is a pale and slightly hazy chap, rustic and crunchy, a bit like a kellerbier. There's a modest quantity of fruity esters but nothing I'd describe as a lager off-flavour. After one pint I ordered a second, finding it refreshing in its crispness and very gulpable.

Then as if to underline my point about lager variety, last week Against the Grain staged a one-night mini-festival of lagers with over a dozen examples from Irish and international brewers. The two above were on show and I also managed to tick off a further pair of new ones as well.

Metalman's latest is Blaager, its grist including crumbs of Waterford's signature bread roll, the blaa. It's a modest 4.6% ABV and pale yellow, despite what my camera seems to think. Not much aroma but the flavour opens on a beautiful soft fruit note, all peach and white plum. It starts to get drier from then on and has a lovely classically grassy pilsner bite on the end.

Very much hop forward, this beer shows very little sign of the bread, of which a whole 60kg went into the mash. The end result is super clean and immensely thirst quenching, while also offering just the right amount of complexity to stay interesting. They have it in cans now so I hope that means it's becoming a regular.

The other new one has been around a while but I'd never taken the time to try it. This time I had no excuse. It's 1601 from Black's of Kinsale. And I didn't like it. And I can't quite put my finger on why. It's another fruity one, with a tart sort of gooseberry edge, and the core of the beer is clean and simple. But there's a sort of staleness to it, and a metallic pencil-sharpener tang, and a kind of sickly sweetness. I couldn't assign any of the obvious lager flaws to it: no diacetyl, no acetaldehyde, no DMS and I don't think it was oxidised; but nor do I think it was simply that it didn't suit my taste. I wish I had a better technical knowledge to describe what was wrong but you'll just have to take it that I didn't enjoy it and am unlikely to go for it again.

And after that I settled into several pints of Rascals Rain Czech pils, making a very welcome return to the taps. It's a beer to disabuse any Irish lager of getting notions, with its soft texture and massive bursts of Saaz grass-and-pepper. Get it while it's fresh.

29 August 2016

In a barbie world

Now a regular feature on the beer calendar, The Big Grill barbecue festival took over Herbert Park in mid-August once again. And, once again there was a fantastic range of Irish beers available with a lot more new offerings than I was expecting. Nothing for it but to knuckle down and get stuck in.

I made my first port-of-call to the Eight Degrees stand, because they have a new Kölsch-a-like, a 4.5% ABV one called Going Out Out. This is one style where I always end up comparing it to the original archetype in a way I don't with most others. I think it's because of that geographical control on the word Kölsch. I also really like Kölsch done well, of course. This... is not Kölsch done well. It's close, very close, but it lacks the crispness I enjoy in the style. I like a bit of husky rasp. In its place this has fruit esters adding a gentle sweetness and almost a touch of soft banana. The hops are spot on however, and do a bit of drying work as well as adding a very summery hit of freshly mown hay. On the whole it's a lovely thirst-quenching blonde ale and I don't begrudge its lack of lager finesse.

Around to Trouble Brewing next. The guys had a California common on the go: Sidewalk Surfer, 5% ABV and a clear copper colour. Given my recent yeasty tangles with Trouble's output, clear is good. Expecting a clean and crisp brown lager I was surprised to get a waft of spicy aftershave from the aroma. "'sup with that, Dave?" says I. "Bobek and Cascade" says Dave back to me. Bobek, eh? The aftershave thing comes out in the flavour as sandalwood and clove-studded oranges, with an orange boiled sweet finish. It's very heavy and chewy, the dark malts making their presence felt. An oddity, for sure, but I rather enjoyed it. Exotic and unexpected, it'll be a much better autumn beer than a summer one.

For summer, one only needed have taken a sidestep to find Trouble's Mandarin Crush, a fruit lager. If Tanora has never been part of your life you'll have to imagine what a lurid tangerine-flavour fizzy pop would taste like, but this opens with a big hit of that sweet, concentrated, tangerine flavour. The finish is clean, with just a hint of sharper orange rind on it. So far, so refreshing, but the gimmick Trouble rolled out for this was a slush machine and for no extra cost you could get a dollop of mandarin slush plopped into your beer. Everything that's wrong with the infantilised craft scene right there, yeah? No. It actually works. The basic flavour remains the same but that hard edge on the finish gets smoothed and sweetened to match the rest of the beer. The slush really complements the (admittedly quite silly) base lager.

Trouble are back on form and all it took was one weird trick. And some Bobek.

It was, I think, the first outing for beers brewed at the new Hope Brewery in Donaghmede and they had two new ones. Hope Session IPA is 4.3% ABV, golden, with a slight haze to it. The aroma is a bright, fresh classical grapefruit thing, a smell to bring you back to your first encounter with hop-forward American-style beer. The flavour is... in line with modern sensibilities. If you like an almost burning level of dankness, spiced with a touch of onion, then this is for you. It certainly impressed me. And it passes the wateriness test, being properly full-bodied; almost balanced, even. Not quite a rival for Little Fawn in my book, but the quality is just as high, it's just higher in bitterness and lower in fruit than White Hag's classic. Apparently it's a limited edition but it would be well worth their while keeping it on.