There's a new festival on the beer calendar this week. Franciscan Well has appropriated the moniker "The Great Irish Beer Festival" (last seen here) and is using it for a new gig taking place in Cork City Hall, starting Thursday. I won't be there, unfortunately, but since the event is so close to the Irish Craft Beer Festival which happened at the RDS a bit over a week ago, and since several of the same beers and brewers will be there, I thought I would dedicate the days running up to it to the beers I tried at the RDS.
Exhibitor numbers were down this year, but there was, as always, plenty of interest over the three days. I'm kicking off this series of posts with the breweries around Dublin's periphery.
First up is the capital's own Rascals who brought some of their signature wine barrel magic in the form of Pinot Noir Brett Ale. The non-bretted version of this beer, which started life as their red ale Big Hop Red, was one of the highlights of the March festival at the RDS. Now they've taken the lees from a Belgian beer and popped them into the barrel to see what that does. The end result is a beautiful amalgam of the red grape flavour with classic farmyard brett as well as a balsamic sharpness and a flawless quick finish. Immensely complex yet dangerously easy to drink.
At the other end of the bar was Project Sour #1, a 4.5%-er hopped with Amarillo, Citra and the hop blend TNT. It's a pale orange colour and smells of juicy oranges too. That turns more towards peach on tasting and the sourness, while present, definitely takes a back seat to the hops. While lightly tart it's also quite dry, leaving it very refreshing and extremely sessionable. A perfect warm-weather drinking beer: sour and hoppy wins again.
There was just a single corny of Rascals Mint Chocolate Stout, a style I've attempted, and failed, to get right in the past. But while my mint all dissipated somewhere during the fermenting process, this one is quite thoroughly minted, with a piercing toothpaste effect right at the centre. There's some very light roast but the complexity is rather offset by the dulling effect of nitrogenation, while the chocolate is barely perceptible and there's no real sweetness. Fun, in a kind of silly way, and it would be interesting to try a carbonated version.
Rascals were far from the only brewery taking its first steps into sourness. Trouble Brewing had one on offer too: Weisse City, a 3.8% ABV Berliner weisse. The story goes that they had intended to hack this with a fruit addition of some sort but when it came out of the fermenter they changed their minds, deciding it was too good to mess with. I can totally see why: there's all sorts of complexity here, for a style that's usually quite simple. The aroma offers funky pineapple while it tastes sharply fruity, like rhubarb mixed with green apple skin. It never loses sight of its wheatiness either, with a pleasant grainy crunch and a beautiful soft pillowy texture. It's another one of those light tart beers I could drink rather a lot of.
I wasn't so keen on the other two new ones at the bar: Crosswalk and Gunslinger, respectively an east coast and west coast style IPA, Expecting big murk from 5.8% ABV Crosswalk, I found it merely hazy. The big surprise was how malt-forward it was: toffee on the nose and in the taste. The hops eventually come through as a crude grass-stalk bitterness, leaving a resinous burn in the finish, along with a big dollop of savoury yeast. It all tasted a bit rough and raw for my liking. Gunslinger is an ABV point higher, murky brown and funky smelling, musty like old crepe paper. The flavour goes lots of different ways at once: napalm hops, weedy dank, and the metallic grassiness of beer that's been dry-hopped for too long. It's hoppy, I'll give it that, and I did kind of get used to it as I sipped, but it needs a bit of tweaking to become an accomplished US-style IPA, in this drinker's opinion.
Trouble is also still brewing for its neighbouring pub, The Dew Drop in Kill. They had a separate stall for their own-label beers, as they did at Killarney, this time including a rooibos-infused job called Bushwhacked. It's a red ale at heart, one with a nicely crisp roasted character. The special addition brings a gentle floral hibiscus element to this, not dominating or showing off, just an extra calm complexity. Nicely done.
And the last call for now is Wicklow Wolf with a bunch of new releases, but I was especially keen on trying the new session IPA Easy Lover, with its daring ABV of just 3.8%. It only misses the mark on a couple of minor points -- a slight yeast bite and a bit of a watery finish -- but looking past these there's a beautifully breezy floral aroma and a flavour which pulls out some serious hop oil density before reverting to meadowy flowers again in the finish. It's probably not designed to be taken apart like this and works perfectly well as a down-the-hatch low-alcohol refresher. Such beers are always welcome in the midst of a three-day all-out beery shindig.
We'll move further afield tomorrow, and meet a brand new brewery too.
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