05 September 2016

Round Ireland with a thirst, part 1: Sligo

It's been a busy summer of beery events, one which has brought me out of my usual haunts in the capital on several occasions. The first trip was in late July, to The White Hag Brewery.

I don't think I'm being too controversial when I describe White Hag as one of the leading lights of Ireland's beer scene. So when they announced they were having a big party at the brewery to celebrate their second birthday I was definitely in (that they kindly stumped up for my train fare sweetened the deal). I'd also never travelled on the Sligo line outside of metropolitan Dublin so there was an extra nerdy thrill of railway exploration, something that's hard come by with a network as limited as Ireland's.

Nearly three hours from Dublin Connolly we arrived at Ballymote, a cutesy rural station that's conveniently next to the industrial park where White Hag has made its home. Brewer Joe mentioned on our subsequent tour that the water profile hereabouts was a major influence on that: it's remarkably soft for Ireland, apparently. The brewery is in a vast former car dealership and has plenty of expansion room, as well as party space. A bar had been set up and guest brewers invited, but first a look at the new one from our hosts that was pouring.

Niamh Chinn Oir (who?) is billed as a Belgian pale ale and is bright gold in colour -- hardly hazy at all. It makes good use of its 6.8% ABV to drive the flavour and aroma, the latter being a rich and funky ripe mango thing, the former mixing up old-world green bitterness with a juicy peach-skin tropical note, set against a background of crunchy grain. It's heady stuff, and while not as polished as, say, Flying Dog's Raging Bitch, it has a lot going on to enjoy.

YellowBelly's delegation brought an American-style red ale with oats, called (inevitably) The Red Oats Are Comin'. It's a murky amber colour and pretty dense, which I guess is unsurprising at 6% ABV. You get a lot of the very typical hoppy red flavours in this; marzipan is how they often taste to me, and this is no exception: a heavy mix of nuts, oils and fruits. Even cold from the keg it's very filling. I don't think I could drink a lot of it, but it certainly delivers on the promise of strong American-style amber ale. No surprises here.

The cuckoo in YellowBelly's nest, Otterbank, brought Beta Barrel 1 - Golden Sour Chardonnay, a Belgian-style golden ale given the mixed fermentation treatment and then aged 13 months in a white wine cask. The result resembles lemon barley water and tastes much more subtle than most examples of nouveau sour. There's a highy-attenuated wheaty cereal base, a citrus tartness, an oily herbal bitterness and in the middle a succulent juicy grape character. While great fun to analyse and explore it's also a 4.5% ABV session beer. A growler of this saw me back to Dublin later on.

Kinnegar's latest sour offering was also pouring. Walla Walla is another hazy pale yellow job and is a bit stronger at 5.5% ABV. Ginger and rhubarb have been employed and the latter really shines through strongly, accentuating the underlying tartness of the base beer. The ginger is a little understated but still very distinct and helps lift the flavour profile, much like spices do in any fruit pie. A squeaky-clean finish brings it all to an end. I really liked the way each individual part of the beer could be tasted separately, something rare enough in spiced and/or fruited beers.

Two guests were over fro