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.

Pouring alongside there was Hope Unfiltered Lager. Despite the name there's hardly any haze at all (that's just a frosty receptacle over there) but there is a lot of hop. Pine and lemons open the flavour and it finishes on an intensely bitter citrus note. It tastes even stronger than its 5% ABV and is using that malt heft to leverage the hops to great effect. And it's more than just a half-arsed lager with bags of hops bunged in: there's a proper cleanness to the profile as well.

Two rounds of applause from me for this lot. Great things are expected from Hope.

Metalman had brought their only slightly tardy Summer beer, daringly an English-style IPA making use of Endeavour and Pilot hops. It's an approachable 4.8% ABV and sharply, greenly bitter all the way through, finishing with a mouthwatering side-of-the-tongue tang. For hoppy fruit, apply elsewhere. Take it down an ABV point, stick it on cask, pop a flatcap on it and you could call it a Yorkshireman.

Inch Spit was the new release from Kinnegar, a red rye ale at 6% ABV. Big hops and big malt are what this one is all about: there's that typical marzipan hop sweetness of American amber, but it's plenty bitter as well, in an old world green sort of way, and then there's all the chewy toffee from the dark malt. But for all that it's not tough drinking: balance is the key, I guess. Probably one to drink as soon as you see it. I suspect it'll begin to fall off kilter as soon as those aromatic hops start to fade.

Brewtonic usually has something interesting for Big Grill and this year it was Solitary Flight, a saison. Lots of lovely honeydew melon in this pale 5%-er, and a pinch of tasty pepper spices. It's pretty much a down-the-line clean and sessionable saison and perfect for al fresco summer drinking.

Brewtonic's host brewery Rascals had two new ones on the go. Chardonnay White Ale was based on their Yankee white IPA and smells of lovely fresh grape and lychee. It's very bitter in the finish, however: I would have liked more of a smoothing effect from the wood. And then another saison: Pacific Secret, at just 4.4% ABV. It's an opaque orange colour and shows the peachiness of Vic Secret hops plus a slightly sharper grape skin note. Maybe it's just that I've never tasted these hops in a saison before but it seemed quite un-saison-like to me: there was no dry or spicy edge. Still a very nice beer though.

My last two, from opposite ends of the tent, were Black's Simcoe IPA, a dark red affair with a big toffee base in which the hops get somewhat lost; and Porterhouse F#¢k Witte, another light and spicy summer beer, not especially complex and maybe a tad over-strong at 5% ABV, but refreshing nonetheless.

And that was me done for the evening. In several ways. Congrats to the organisers on another successful event, and special thanks for providing such a great platform for Irish brewers to show their wares outside the craft beer bubble.

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