25 November 2016

Of Saints and Rascals

There's much to catch up with as regards new Irish beer in recent months. Going all the way back to early October, St. Mel's were in town, occupying some of the taps in The Beerhouse for an evening. The new kid was St. Mel's IPA, which came with the warning that it's made to be sold in Longford. Which is fine: Longford people need IPA same as the rest of us. It's 5.2% ABV and a dark red colour. There's a wholesome density to it, warming, with an autumnal dark fruit kick on the end plus a touch of tannin. So an IPA in the strong English bitter mould then? Very much so. I happily downed a couple of pints of the kegged version but would love to try it on cask.

The guys had also brought the last of this summer's Beer Garden Wit, a seasonal I completely missed last year. There's elderflower in this and it features in the flavour in a big way. Alongside it there are big and warming Belgian yeast esters which I wouldn't have marked down as particularly summery, but maybe they're less intrusive when the beer is served cooler. It left me looking for the clean refreshing edge that witbier can usually be relied upon for.

From an out-of-season beer to one that was right on time: Rascals Social Hops #1 débuted in The Square Ball the following night. Social Hops is a community-based hop growing project, supported by the Bodytonic pub chain. The harvest was in mid-September and three weeks later there was a 4.5% ABV blonde ale on tap. The hops were all Prima Donna (except for a token bittering addition of something commercial) and the signature soft lemon flavour of this variety really shone, set on a lightly effervescent body and with a dry finish. It's, understandably, a subtle beer, but very drinkable and refreshing with it.

When not putting crowd-sourced hops to good use Rascals has also been continuing the sour beer series it began in September with The Hoppy One. Project Sour No. 2 is subtitled Seriously Saison and is very saison. Peppery vapours drift up from the hazy gold beer, and it tastes very fruity -- I get plum and lychee in particular -- plus a spicy edge in the finish. There's only the briefest pinch of tartness in amongst this before the fruit esters take over the flavour once again. It's a decent saison but I wanted much more from the sourness.

I hoped I'd find that in Project Sour No. 3 aka Forest Fruit Sour, and I sort-of did: there's a big punchy lactic sourness in the flavour of this clear purpley-pink beer. But in front of it there's an unsubtle candy-sweet syrup flavour which brings the blackberry, dark cherry and even blueberry notes into the equation. It really reminded me of the cheapo fruit lambics made by the industrial brewers of Belgium: they were what first interested me in sour beer and I have a soft spot for how they operate, but they're not exactly sophisticated. This beer does deliver what it promises: it is sour and really tastes of forest fruit, but I was looking for something more substantially complex.

More recently, Rascals has also released an updated version of the Mint Chocolate Stout they were pouring at the RDS in September. The specific item of confectionery they're attempting to mimic is signalled by the name: 8:01, and they've raised the ABV and general flavour levels. The end result is 6% ABV and has a lovely oily mint twang. At the launch event in (where else?) The 108, I got to try it nitrokegged side-by-side with the straight-carbonation canned version. And while the nitro one hasn't been stripped of its flavour, the dry roast crispness and fun milk chocolate sweetness are much more apparent in the cans. Like the Ginger Porter on which the brewery was founded, this never loses sight of the classic beer style at its roots, which is very much to its credit.

And a footnote from Rascals: their Aussie-hopped Flamin' Red double IPA from last winter has been tweaked, rebadged and relaunched as Big Red DIPA but is still pretty much the same jammy spicy warmer it was before.

That's it for now, with much more Irish beer to come next week.

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