01 August 2016

Once more unto the pub

On Friday I posted one of those long and rambling round-ups of random Irish beers I'd found in the pubs of Dublin. It had been in the drafts folder for quite a while and by the time I had it scheduled I had already built up enough scattered material for another one. So, bringing us momentarily up to date, we have...

Scarecrow, brand spanking new from Galway Bay and billed as a "hoppy farmhouse ale" of 5.5% ABV. It was served up in a 33cl measure in Alfie Byrne's, a translucent pale orange colour. The aroma is a strange mix of fruit and funk, like a barrel of peaches on the turn. A slight tip-of-the-tongue tartness opens the foretaste, followed quickly by an avalanche of peaches. I know flavour analogues are a very flawed way of describing tastes but the blast of peaches I got from this felt very real: the succulent chewy flesh, the extra bitterness of the skin and even that slight woody note from the bits around the stone. Total, hi-def, peach. Beside this there's the rough-grained rustic crunch of classic Belgian saison, finishing with a spritz of sweet and spicy jasmine perfume. It's a fun and playful beer, complex, interesting and clean. I don't know that saison needed the big hop treatment, but sure why not?

Over to Bar Rua next, and one of the Carrig beers which had hitherto escaped me: Iron Mountain Stout. I was pleasantly surprised to find it not poured on nitro, its head a wholesome old ivory colour rather than bone-white. It tastes very sweet to begin with -- an unappetising combination of cheap chocolate and cold weak coffee. In the middle of the flavour there's more of a classic Irish dry stout character, while both the aroma and the finish show a nice, old fashioned, greenly metallic hop bitterness. I was happy with it at the end of the first mouthful, but the second brought me right back to the start with the caramel thing again, and this time I noticed how thin the texture is. Feeding into my disappointment is a name which suggests a robustness that the beer simply does not deliver. It's not actively unpleasant, or technically flawed in any way, but if I'm after an enjoyable dark beer from the Carrig stable, it's still going to be the excellent Coalface black IPA.

The remains of this round-up come to you, unsurprisingly, from 57 The Headline.

Two new ones from Trouble for starters: Jack D'RIPA is a 5.8% ABV hopped-up rye red ale and, at €6.80 a pint, priced for the gambler. I hedged my bets with a half and was glad I did. Yeast bite has become Trouble's signature flavour now and can be pretty much relied upon to ruin every new release of theirs. I can't help wondering if the rapid sequence of new beers lately means that each one is not getting the time in the tanks it needs to come out clean. Peering around the muckiness, as I usually have to, there's another decent beer here: classic grassy rye and a twang of leafy hops. The aroma is fresh and spicy citrus, from a hop bill that includes Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe and Azacca, but the fun flavours that these varieties can usually be relied on for don't really materialise. There is a bitter finish, but it comes from the interfering yeast, not the hopping.

Trouble also has a new double IPA out, called The Grove, and brewed with the inclusion of mangoes. This is 7.5% ABV and rather soupy looking, smelling of sweet ripe mango. I got ready for the hops and fruit hit before I tasted it but neither really arrived. It's quite plain-tasting, dominated by a weighty malt biscuit flavour backed by just a mild mango element and some boozy warmth. Whatever hops have been employed simply did not show up for work. I found it quite tough to get through, partially because it's such a big dense beer, though also because it's rather boring.

I'm really looking forward to Trouble getting their mojo back. I hope it's soon.

Moving on to Black's of Kinsale, who are continuing their single-hop series with Equinox Rye IPA. To put things simply, it tastes of sausages. There's a savoury rusk base and herbs beyond this, for a flavour that is highly reminiscent of seasoned meat. I enjoyed it, as I enjoy a nicely herbed sausage, but it didn't deliver the hop hit I was expecting.

The fourth and final IPA for this post is one of the session variety: Happy Days from Rascals. At 4.1% ABV it's heading towards the upper strength limits of this sub-style but is still a little bit thin in the mouth, something presaged by its watery pale yellow appearance. As with every session IPA, I apply the Little Fawn Test to it: does this taste like Little Fawn? And no, unfortunately it doesn't. Other than a lightly spritzy aroma, the hops are rather muted in it and are definitely behind the door when it comes to the flavour. I get a mineral metallic bitterness, which is pleasant, but not really worthy of the IPA designation, session or otherwise. It's decent thirst-quenching fare, but a bit more hop kick would be appreciated.

I'm not sure who brews Celtic Ard Rí Aon Whiskey Cask Matured Red Ale, but as far as I know it's produced as the house beer for the Celtic Whiskey Bar in Killarney (all corrections welcome in the comments). It's 6.4% ABV and a clear copper colour. The oak is a huge part of the flavour, being clean and mannerly to begin with but there's a hefty dollop of buttery vanilla with it as well. After a moment or two I was reminded of Innis & Gunn, a similarity which grew stronger as the beer warmed up. Like Innis & Gunn it's not a beer I want to drink very much of as it gets thick and sickly quite quickly. For a beer built around its whiskey theme there's really not much of a whiskey element beyond the oaky vanilla and I wouldn't regard it as a particularly good example of what barrel ageing can bring to a beer. But if it keeps the whiskey people happy perhaps that's all that's required.

To Craftworks next, and a new one from its landmark-themed Postcard Brewing Co.: Ha'penny Bridge Pale Ale. This arrived an unattractive murky grey colour which put me on my guard, but unnecessarily so as the first sip revealed a plethora of lovely pale ale flavours including lemon candy, pine oils and incense spices. It's plenty bitter too but the invigorating sharpness is perfectly balanced by the lighter, fruity hop flavours. And while I did detect a certain unwelcome yeast fuzz in there, it doesn't interfere much and certainly doesn't ruin the party.

Bringing up the rear, I just managed to catch the tail end of Two Sides Wakey Wakey coffee porter before it ran out. For this, Two Sides have availed of the services of 5 Lamps Brewery, just a couple of streets away from 57.

There are those who criticise coffee beers when they just end up tasting like cold coffee. Not me, though. Though far from a coffee fanatic, I do like when all the complexity of coffee's flavour comes through in a coffee beer: the oily beans and the light red fruit in particular. And this delivers all of that, as well as a smooth creaminess. It's low on roast and bitterness, and there's only the faintest trace of the simple base porter behind. The main thing it delivers is freshness, the heady aromatic burst of newly-ground beans. It is very aptly named.

I was half way through writing this post when the tragic news broke of the untimely death of Oliver Hughes on Saturday night. Like many Dublin-based Irish beer enthusiasts, I first learned of the myriad flavours and styles of world beer in Oliver's pub, the Porterhouse. In my case, Porterhouse Red was the gateway beer into what I do now.

I got to know Oliver through my work with Irish Craft Brewer and later Beoir and always found him generous, knowledgeable and entertaining. There's no doubt that the broadness of Irish beer expressed here wouldn't exist without his influence. He will be sadly missed.


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