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.