08 August 2016

Styling it out

I covered the first pair of Grafters beers, brewed at Rye River for Dunnes Stores, late last year. The range has now doubled in size, rounded out with two beers, this time not from the hop-forward side of the spectrum.

First out of the fridge was Grafters Kölsch Style. Perhaps it was the fact that I poured it into a Paulaner glass but this presented more like a weissbier: deep orange and distinctly hazy, unlike the usual bright limpid yellow of classic Kölsch, and topped by a thick pillow of foam. I was immediately on guard for fruity esters which are allowable in the style but aren't its best feature. Thankfully the weizen similarities end with the appearance. A big first gulp reveals the clean crispness that is Kölsch's calling card: that razor sharp edge of pale malt husk, shaving the palate clean. There's more complexity behind, a very light fruitiness showing honeydew and lychee, elements which also come through in the enticing aroma. But it all finishes quickly, ready for the next sip. Though perhaps a little overclocked at 5% ABV, this is a very good approximation of the better sort of Kölsch and one of the very few bottled versions that actually calls to mind what I enjoyed in Cologne: not even Früh does that. If the carbonation was the same low smoothness this would be indistinguishable from the real thing. As is, it's just a very very good unfiltered top-fermented lager.

High hopes, then, as we turn to the dark side and Grafters Porter. Just 4.5% ABV, but rather thick as it pours and slow to form a head, which it does, eventually. If café mocha is your thing then this is exactly the beer for you. The flavour is a riot of sweet milky chocolate, calming down just long enough to let a more delicate fresh roast coffee edge come through. So intense is the full-volume surround-sound 4K 3D chocolate experience that for a while I thought I would never be able to taste anything else, but there's more going on in this beer: a heavy, sharp bitterness that's all about the roasted grain rather than hops and, while severe, is entirely necessary to balance the sweetness. The end result of all this to-ing and fro-ing is a rather busy, hyperactive beer, a noisy one man band that could probably do with laying off the espresso. Fun and exciting, perhaps, but I'm not sure I'd be reaching for a second the way I definitely would with the Kölsch-style.

Both of these sell for €2 per half litre bottle and are further examples of how great -- or at least interesting -- Irish beer is as likely to come from the bargain end of the shelf as super-premium.