20 September 2016


I left off yesterday's post on the Irish Craft Beer Festival with one from Wicklow Wolf. This post delves deeper into the garden county to find more of what its growing number of brewers are turning out.

The newest is in the west of the county and goes by the name of Beaky Dargus. It's a crew of home brewers of Polish extraction, turned semi-pro, and launching at the RDS with a good-sized range of quite daring beers. Mostly quite strong ones too. At the bottom of the scale was I Am Single, a Cascade-hopped pale ale. It's light and offers a decent, straightforward hop bite, though does finish a little soapy for some reason. Their stout is called Black Beak Juggler and is a substantial 5.5% ABV. It doesn't taste it, though, being lightly textured, quite dry and with a touch of putty flavour. I suspect that this more mainstream end of brewing is not enjoyed by the team as much as the more outré side.

And that begins with Golden Melody, a golden ale at 7.5% ABV. Among the complex elements here are a similar soap to the pale ale, but also light toffee, a subtle melon juiciness and a smooth mineral soda finish. It's far more thirst quenching than it ought to be, and shows a nuance in its strength that reminded me of the way Belgians handle this kind of stuff. But then the brewers decided to pop it into a Scottish whisky barrel for a while, producing something they've called Turf Cutter, and with good reason. The base beer is almost totally lost under a massively phenolic peated-whisky flavour and aroma, with a dose of corky oak to go along with that. Subtle it ain't, but if smoke is your thing this'll get those endorphins flowing. And biggest of the lot is One Man Orchestra, described as a "whiskey barrel aged imperial Irish coffee milk stout" and there's really not much for me to add because it does all those things. I was expecting it to be hot and dense at 10% ABV, and bursting with vanilla too, but it's not. Instead there's a gentle but pronounced coffee flavour, a lacing of creamy lactose sugar and just a small measure of whiskey for effect. It's a mannerly beer, its flavours all very well integrated and beautifully smooth drinking. With this ability to do big, strong and barrel-aged well, could we have Ireland's De Molen on our hands? Time will tell.

Much fuss was deservedly being made about the long anticipated return of O Brother's magnificent black IPA, Bonita, but they also had another more toned-down new beer to offer at the festival. The Preacher is a session IPA at 4.6% ABV and based on their previous release, Max. Sensibly they've lowered the bitterness somewhat and this lets a lovely lemon citrus flavour shine through in it. A chalky mineral quality opens it before the hops start to build, the lemon turning to sharp and invigorating rind by the end. It still takes a moment or two for the palate to adjust to the bitterness, but the beer becomes very nicely gulpable once it does.

The county's eponymous Wicklow Brewery had Gingerknut on tap when I rolled up to their bar. This is one of their regulars but it had so far eluded me in Dublin. It's a simple little chap, a hazy orange pale ale at 4.4% ABV in which the ginger flavours are used to great effect, bringing a gentle old-fashioned spiciness, like ginger biscuits, without any of the extreme heat or dryness found in beers with more aggressive levels of ginger. Nicely accessible, this.

The management are particularly pleased with how Black 16 stout turned out. This is an oatmeal stout of 4.9% ABV with added coffee and vanilla. For me, the latter of these additions was far too dominant: a super sickly blast of vanilla that absolutely drowns everything else out, almost completely. I reckon there's a good stout, even a good coffee stout, under here, but it turns out I have a vanilla sensitivity. Your mileage may vary.

Finally for now, there was a gose on the go at Wicklow as well: Pineapple Head, brewed with pineapple, of course, but also with raspberries, and clocking in at a tiddly 3.6% ABV. As if to compensate for not appearing in the title, the raspberries make it their business to take over the beer, starting with a sharp pink twitch in the nose. I didn't get much of a pineapple flavour, though the raspberries are there, as well as a sort of general perfumey fruit sweetness. This is balanced nicely by the savoury effect of the salt and coriander. While it's a sweet fruit beer at heart -- reminding me more than anything of the sweetened fruit lambics of Belgium -- it manages to avoid getting cloying by still being a gose, employing all the refreshing edges that brings.

Our virtual tour continues tomorrow to points further south.

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