21 November 2016

Trans-Shannon exports

On the daytrip to Galway back in July I managed to sneak a look-in at the Fine Wines off licence just down the street from The Salt House. In there I grabbed a handful of local beers I hadn't seen around Dublin to take home with me.

First up is the charmingly named Bogman from Spiddal River Brewery. "Spiddal River Brewery is based in Spiddal, Co. Galway" says the label, and also that the beer is "Designed in Galway... product of Ireland", indicating that Spiddal River isn't a brewery at all. As far as I know the beer comes from Trouble Brewing, closer to home in Kildare. It's 4.9% ABV and an unattractive murky orange-amber colour, putting me immediately in mind of those rough-and-ready brewpub beers you get in central and eastern Europe.

 A slightly short fill on the bottle left it low in carbonation, and pleasantly so, with a nice cask texture. Though self-described as a "US pale ale" it is extremely sweet, showing a big malty Ovaltine flavour at the front and even a kick of milk chocolate. The hop flavours are almost non-existent, so as a pale ale it's nearly a total failure. The label also describes it as "earthy" and although the suspended yeast doesn't really get in the way, I could just about see how you would describe it as earthy. "Rustic" is the word I'd use. It's not a beer designed to impress the cosmopolitan beer enthusiast, that's for sure, but I guess the name makes that clear from the outset.

I follow it with Limerick Lady Irish Pale Ale from Limerick City Brewery, which doesn't exist either. The brewery pictures they've posted online look like the old Brú brewhouse so I'd take a punt on it being produced there, which would make it another Leinster beer in disguise. It's a similar unpleasant murky brown colour though a tiny bit stronger than the last one at 5% ABV and, oh, is that hops I smell? There's quite an English hop aroma -- slightly metallic -- though also a worrying marker-pen note.

It's all bait-and-switch because neither of these elements show up in the flavour. That has a floral sweetness, a savoury yeast bite, and a harsh melted plastic off-flavour. Not a winning combination. This tastes cheaply put-together and rushed out of the brewery: especially strange for a company that's presumably trying to build a reputation for itself as it gets going. At the same time, however, a cursory glance at Untappd yields not a single negative review, proving my theory that it's impossible to go out of business as an Irish brewer by making substandard beer. There's always a market for your product, regardless of how shoddy it is. Which is depressing, but moving on...

Finally a beer whose provenance is in no doubt. Galway Hooker Double IPA was definitely brewed in Galway and commemorates the tenth anniversary of the brewery opening for business. In Roscommon. Er. It's a downright handsome clear dark amber colour with a heavy aroma of big boozy malt pierced through by citric hops. The first sip brings... density. It's a trifling 8.6% ABV but feels a point or two above that. Bigfoot territory. Chewy malt is the main feature, then a supporting cast of harsh metallic bitterness, biting grapefruit acidity and a greener spinach and cabbage vibe. It doesn't sound very new-world at all, but there's a lightness of touch about it, a smoothness and a quickness in the finish that keeps it nicely drinkable while also being an unmistakable high-alcohol powerhouse.

This is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a beer for special occasions. Something to be taken out and shared, or reverentially sipped. All of its different flavour elements come through clear and clean, despite the big boozy blanket on top of them. Both of the other beers have a lot to learn from the way Hooker turns out its product.