30 November 2016

Bang for your buck

Rye River's Crafty Brewing Company American Style Pale Wheat Ale arrived in Lidl to much fanfare (and extensive shortages) in late October. I finally tracked some down in the Terenure branch, handed over my €2, and brought it home.

Back in the old days (around 2007), American Wheat Beer meant a travesty of a style, brewed with a weissbier grist but a neutral ale yeast, resulting in an invariably boring grainy outcome. Nowadays, however, "American Style" anything is the signal to expect hops. This one is still using the neutral yeast, though, which I guess is why it's not badged as a hopfenweisse or white IPA.

It's 5% ABV and the hazy orange colour of many an American pale ale. Cascade and Mosaic are the hops, the label helpfully tells us, and it smells enticingly of fresh mandarin and peach. The texture is a little thin for a wheat beer, but it's still nicely soft. Mosaic dominates the flavour with a major caraway seed savouriness and a touch of garlic behind. A little bit of mandarin juice rounds it off, then a pleasantly acidic hop residue burn remains in the aftertaste. It's certainly boldly  flavoured, intense even, but is ultimately quite simplistic in its bombast.

Overall I found it a little too savoury to be properly refreshing, and it's not the first Mosaic-heavy beer I've had that issue with. But it certainly fits in with the other big-flavoured Crafty Brewing beers, and for the price you definitely get your money's worth of hops.

28 November 2016

A bigger Belly

Wexford's YellowBelly brewery descended on 57 The Headline for a tap takeover in early November, bringing as broad a selection as I've seen from one brewery at one of these events. And all, of course, with their distinctive badge artwork from in-house designer Paul.


Naturally I started at the low end, with Harvest Lager, brewed using their own supply of Tipperary-grown Hersbrucker. The ABV is a concerning 3.9% and it's an extremely pale white-gold colour. And yet the body is surprisingly buoyant with a decent amount of candyfloss malt to get your teeth into. There's a real proper noble hop bitterness and a perfect crisp finish. I'm used to being aww-bless tolerant of Irish-hopped beers but this is just a damn decent lager however you look at it.

A tapping mix-up meant I was given an unexpected glass of the companion piece: Harvest Ale. This one is extremely dry with a strong brown-bread-crust flavour. Not unpleasant, but a little odd. Bramling Cross is the homegrown hop, and I detected a small touch of raisin in lieu of the usual blackcurrant effect. I'd be hard-pressed to stick a style label on it but with all that dry husky grain I'd probably end up describing it as some kind of top-fermented kellerbier. It's that sort of rustic wholesomeness.

But back to the lager. Pink Freud is in the Vienna style, though disappointingly yellow rather than pink. It tastes darker than it looks, however: with appropriate sweet and smooth melanoidins from the Munich and Vienna malts. The hops are rather muted and the finish is abrupt, both of which would be normal for the style, though I'm less sure about the rising alcoholic heat that started to creep in as it warmed. I think this one might still need a little therapy.

The wooden spoon of the evening went to Little Red, a 3.9% ABV red ale. A sharply sweet strawberry flavour opens it, leading on to a harsh bitter roasted twang at the end. It's very thin as well, something which really accentuates the pointy edges and makes it harder to drink. While successfully avoiding the blandness trap, this ended up falling into a different one.

No fancy name on Citra Pale Ale, a 4.8% ABV single-hopper. This is a hazy shade of yellow and has a huge zingy sherbet foretaste and a beautiful lemon rind bitterness for a finish. The middle is a little disappointing: there's a hollowness there, thinner and more watery than the strength would suggest. It does get more complex as it warms a little: the sherbet gets sweeter while the lemons turn dank, but it never manages to shake that thinness. Built for the session, I guess, but I'd like a bit more wallop.

The much-renowned Castaway was on, and I enjoyed a note-free pint of that at the end, pleased to learn it'll be something of a regular. The other sour beer they brought was For Whom The Sour Trolls. Citra again, only 3.7% ABV, and an unattractive turbid brown colour. The flavour is massive: a super-sour mouth watering lemon pith smack up front; a chalky alkaline finish and the savoury yeast grit for balance. It sounds awful, like a bunch of brewing flaws strung together, but it works beautifully, scrubbing the palate clean and awakening the senses. Though missing many of the subtleties, it's the closest thing to jonge lambic I've tasted from an Irish brewery. I'd happily clear a stoneware jugful.

On to the stronger stuff now. G'way IPA was making its début, a 6.7%-er with a big Colombus and Cascade bitterness. I got a seriously oily resinous aroma and a jaw-pinching acid bitterness followed by green cabbage and asparagus flavours. This is seasoned with an earthy, woody note, almost smoky with hints of mushroom and leaf mold. It's a very grown up sort of IPA, and tasty with it.

The first draft of Salubrious Stout was also on. The main batch is currently ageing in a whiskey cask but this one was given a dose of whiskey-soaked chips instead. Despite being all of 9% ABV and very dark and dense, the stout character gets a bit lost under the sweet honeyish Irish whiskey and the corky oak flavour. If you prefer vanilla, honey and booze to coffee and chocolate this might suit, but it was out of kilter for my palate.

And the evening's final new beer was Queen Lizzie, officially described as an "Imperial English IPA", 8.3% ABV and served from the handpump as Her Majesty doubtless prefers. It's a clear and innocent gold colour but tastes shockingly hot at first. After a moment the nuances emerge: golden syrup malt and a spinach-like green bitterness. Three sips in I was utterly charmed by the roundness and smoothness, and looking for a fireplace to settle into it by. Yes, it's an English bitter at its core, but there are definite shades of barley wine and tripel around the edges.

Hopefully, with YellowBelly's production moving out of the basement to a big-boy brewery, we'll see beers like this on a more regular basis, not just on special occasions. Props as always to The Headline for making this one possible.