30 September 2016

No fear

Today I'm getting back amongst the bottled beers of Wexford Town's YellowBelly Brewery. There's a broadly sour and farmhouse theme to this set which arrived simultaneously a couple of months ago.

A gose first, called Gose To Leipzig. It poured a beautiful gold colour with a very slight haze and a fine head which faded quickly. The biggest surprise is that this one is a stonking 6% ABV, much stronger than gose would typically be -- classic originals Bayerischer Bahnhof and Ritterguts are 4.6% and 4.7% respectively.

The aroma is a sweaty mix of seawater and alcohol with just a very mild herbal component. The texture is thick and kind of greasy, leaving a film in the mouth. As expected it tastes quite boozy, with a similar heat to strong pale lager. Beyond this there's an interesting apple fruit character, a dry wheaty crunch and then a tip-of-the-tongue saltiness which helps clean things up. I'm used to gose as a refreshing quaffer but this one is definitely for sipping, and while it's certainly one of the more flexible styles, that's normally because of the added flavourings brewers insist on putting in. I'm not quite sure what to make of this plain but ramped-up one. I don't think it quite works because of that heavy heat.

And that's a problem I also have with stronger examples of another style: saison. When they're too hot and fruity I find them difficult to drink. Where's Wallonia? is YellowBelly's first bottled saison. Lots of bubbles going on here, and a worrying acetone smell, suggesting an ABV far higher than its 5.6%. Thankfully it's much cleaner on tasting, but not particularly farmhouse-y. I was expecting some crispness and some funk, but really you could pass this off as a pale ale. It might be the added orange peel that gives an impression of fresh hops. There's quite a high level of sweetness as well, a candyfloss middle that dries out towards the end, aided by the fizz.

Overall it's a rather jolly beer, refreshing if a little overcarbonated. A few saison purists might get upset but it does the job for me. Certainly a lot more accessible than the gose.

Last of the set is the lightest: Great for the Town is just 4.5% ABV. It's a non-specified style of sour beer with the inclusion of Wexford's signature crop, strawberries. It presents from the bottle like a bellini: the same shade of orangey-pink. It smells very sweet, more like strawberry syrup than the real thing. The sourness is the main feature of the flavour, but quite subtly done at the same time. After an initial burst of tartness there's a gentle strawberry jam effect for a finish that's sweet, but not sticky. It's all the flavour of real strawberry with none of the sugar.

This really hits the refreshment target that the gose missed: that gum-scrubbing acidity makes for very easy drinking and is a wake-up call to the palate. The strawberries are a little unnecessary but I appreciate they're a big part of what the beer is designed to be. Drink local and all that.

Three fascinating beers here. Great for the Town is probably the best of the bunch but the muscular gose engaged my interest more than the rest. I'm sure it's high time I went looking for the next set of bottles.

28 September 2016

Sweet Georgia without the Brown

US college football came to Dublin a few weeks ago, involving a full calendar of American festivities. Rye River opted to make at least one of the teams feel at home by shipping in a load of beers from the SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta. I suppose the visiting Bostonians had to make do with Samuel Adams brewed in Kent. Anyhoo, a couple of days before the game Rye River took over the upstairs of The Mercantile on Dame Street and held a celebration of SweetWater, with games and food and copious quantities of free beer. As part of my duty to you, the reader, I felt obliged to go along.

Four beers were on the go and I started on 420, the brewery's "extra" pale ale, that epithet referring, I assume, to the somewhat overcharged ABV of 5.7%. It's one of those beers that starts wafting hop volatiles at you even when it's still being poured. There's nothing more exciting than Centennial and Cascade in this but it broadcasts a soft peachiness that's very much in line with present-day American hopped pale ales. The flavour is simple and sweet, reminding me of nothing so much as Juicy Fruit chewing gum. The texture is light enough so that the sweetness doesn't build, despite a very low level of hop bitterness. I found it finishes a little bit watery which helps ensure drinkability but I would expect more substance at 5.7% ABV, regardless of how well-hidden that strength is. Overall, though, a very nice hoppy sessioner.

Weirdo of the bunch was Blue, a wheat beer with added blueberries. It's only 4.6% ABV and arrives a clear pale shade of yellow. But what it lacks in blueberry appearance it makes up for in blueberry taste and smell: it's absolutely roaring with the things, smelling like a muffin and tasting like blueberry pop. I was expecting some level of wheatiness but there's really very little else going on: it's another sweet and simple light beer. Fortunately I really like the flavour of blueberries so I got a kick out of its bouncy silliness. Your mileage may vary.

I decided to go for the brown ale next but by the time I got to the bar the supplies had run out. Nothing for it, then, but skip ahead to SweetWater IPA. Feedback around the room on this was quite negative, I found, and I'd set myself up for a disappointment. But there isn't a thing wrong with this beer. I suspect its only failing is that it's not how IPAs tend to be brewed these days, by the fashionista brewers, at least. It's 6.3% ABV and a pale golden colour. The aroma is sharp rather than fruity: a mix of lemon sherbet and a waxy acidity. Zip, zing and zest are all absent from the flavour, replaced by a heavy and serious dank. It's an unctuous and oily hop bomb with a hard and very grown-up bitterness. If all those tropical IPAs have left your lupulin threshold in need of a shift, this is the lad that'll do it.

Does the Irish speciality beer market need another core range from an American craft brewer in it? I dunno. Rye River is certainly having no trouble making hoppy delights with the beatings of any of these. But I'll always vote for something I've never had before and perhaps I'm not alone among Irish drinkers there.

Thanks to Niall, Alan, Alex, Simon and all the Rye River crew for a fun night out. Go sports!