Time for my final round-up of miscellaneous Irish beer for 2016, all the stuff I found in the pubs and off licences of Dublin as the festive season started to bite.
Galway Bay had been especially busy, knocking out a couple of winter specials for starters. First to appear was Banished Sun, an 8% ABV "imperial porter". Yes I'm putting scare quotes on that. It's dark brown in colour and the main feature of the flavour is a flaky ashen dryness lightened only slightly by some warm-fermentation fruit esters. The alcohol is very apparent, making it taste hot, and there's a big bruising bitterness as well. Overall it's a mean and harsh drinking experience, one not to be entered into lightly. I'd guess that time will soften this beer a little but whether it's enough to make it enjoyable remains to be seen.
The companion piece is called Black Forest. Trouble Brewing denied us its cherry chocolate stout this year so I was pleased when Galway Bay decided to pick up the slack. The base beer here is another dry and bitter porter but this time there's a decent layer of smooth chocolate and then a very real-tasting dark cherry acidity. In combination, the base beer and flavourings create an effect like fruit jelly spread on well-done toast. I would definitely have preferred it to be sweeter and heavier -- it's all of 6.2% ABV, after all. The name implies cake and the taste doesn't quite deliver it.
Switching styles completely, Galway Bay's second double IPA since brewer Will took the reins is Hexed. A pale one, it matches Of Foam & Fury's ABV of 8.5% and opens with a stunning fresh mandarin aroma. This was the first part of the flavour I noticed, but behind the juice you'll also find some sweet onion and then a very slight yeasty fuzz which I think actually helps soften the beer. It needs softening because it's very thick and greasy, with an unctuous napalm heat. I didn't take long over it but I suspect that it's best consumed cold when the hop flavours are brightest. This is a real west-coast powerhouse, but a balanced one too.
For '80s kids everywhere, Eight Degrees presents Bandit, a smoked brown ale, which I found on the bar at Alfie Byrne's a few weeks ago. My half pint of this 6%-er looked a bit sad in the glass, arriving without a proper head on it. It's a clear dark red-brown colour with amber highlights around the edges. Despite the strength it's surprisingly thin of body. I expected that to change as it warmed but it didn't. The smoke is dominant, though not overdone, blending peaty phenols with a meaty smoked sausage flavour. It's fun at first but starts to get acrid a few mouthfuls in. What it's crying out for is more of a brown ale base, a bit of that caramel sweetness and definitely more substance to the texture. There's the makings of something very good here but I couldn't quite get into it as-is.
Leaving aside this year's winter trilogy which I'll get to in the new year when the third one is released, the next one from Eight Degrees was Wayfarer, badged as a "sour IPA" (more scarequotes) and a mere 4% ABV. I was looking for something sessionable at the Beoir Christmas party in The Beerhouse, and this fitted the bill perfectly. Pouring a weak-looking hazy yellow colour it's quite a straightforward beer. It's not especially sour, with a dry and chalky background to the tartness. The hops aren't exactly full-on either, giving it just a light and spritzy lemon bitterness. It's flavourful enough to be interesting but most importantly it's extremely drinkable and very refreshing. That they chose to release it in the middle of winter is perhaps the oddest thing as it would make an ideal summer beer, but you won't find me complaining.
The latest seasonal release from JW Sweetman coincided with the launch of a bit of a rebrand for the brewpub's wares. The beer is a Dunkelweisse, which I'll admit at the start is not a style which normally does much for me. This one's not bad at all, though. It's thickly textured and nicely smooth making it filling and warming, almost like a dark weizenbock. There's a light banana flavour keeping it in touch with its weissbier roots, and a mild smokiness. I detected a touch of sulphur as well, for a bit of bonus complexity. Overall a very decent effort at an unexciting style.
To 57 the Headline next, and a couple more dark and wintery beers. Le Rubis is the latest from Two Sides, once again utilising the facilities and expertise of the Five Lamps Brewery. There's a very strange mix of flavours in this and I don't think it quite works. The first thing I got was an enormous wave of dark malt elements: toffee and a rich cocoa sweetness. Hot on its heels there's an intense acidic bitterness which feels like it belongs in a different beer, one that's unwelcome in my glass. It ends up as a very busy effort that's simultaneously too sweet and too bitter.
Moving on to Trouble's remake of last year's red ale, Ripcord. Ripcord 2.0 drops the ABV a little, from 4.7% to 4.1. It's still dark red, though, and still not much more than a straight down-the-line Irish red ale. The texture is probably its best feature, lovely and round and filling, almost like it's nitrogenated. The muted flavours of red summer fruit come through clearly, free of yeasty interference I'm happy to say, but it's all very brief and there's nothing much else going on. As in the first version, the name suggests a level of excitement that's entirely inappropriate for the finished beer.
If it's excitement you want, Kelly's Mountain released a double IPA earlier in the year, though quite a light one at just 7% ABV. It's called Reality Bytes and is a pale shade of copper, smelling quite sweet, of marmalade shred and toffee. And while it is pretty thick, sticky almost, the hops balance it rather nicely. There's more of that bitter orangey tang and some harsher aspirin metallic notes but it's all good clean fun: the heat levels are low and the toffee malt, while present, isn't overdone. You wouldn't mistake it for a San Diego hop bomb (for one thing it doesn't taste of onions) but it's a jolly nice straightforward sort of IPA. I don't know if Kelly's Mountain intends to make it permanent but no harm if they do.
A new swathe of Whiplash beers began with True Love Waits, a pils. I was surprised to find it's quite dark in colour, the dull brownish colour of earwax. Lovely aroma, though: all light and peachy with added watermelon and white plum. The first flavour to emerge is a malt sweetness, an almost candyfloss effect, familiar from many German and Czech lagers. Behind this a sting of bitter noble hops and then the oily vapours of something American. A glance at the brewer's description tells me that the first bit was Hersbrucker and the latter Columbus. The malt and hop elements are nicely balanced. I do get a creeping pine toilet-cleaner note, but the clean finish prevents it from getting too prominent. My biggest criticism is that it's a touch watery: the sweet malt doesn't seem to add the sort of body you'd find in the central European equivalent, especially at all of 5% ABV. I'm not sure if the brewer intended this as one to smash back when thirsty, but I've a feeling that's how it will work best.
Also new from Mr Whiplash is a rebrew of 2013 Otterbank classic Farami coffee stout and a second double IPA, called Since I've Been Loving You. It also sees the operation moving out of its usual home at Rye River, with Farami brewed at Rising Sons and this one on the fancypants Kaspar Schulz kit at Boyne Brewhouse. It's 8.2% ABV and the pale amber colour of a lovely cup of tea. Expecting heat I was surprised to find the nose is subtly fruity with light grapefruit and tangerine. It's not madly hoppy to taste, nor hot and heavy. In fact, the tea analogy continues, with a pleasant tannic dryness being the main feature. The hops are mouthwateringly orangey while the soft malt base makes it taste like chewy orange flavoured candy. Despite over 100 IBUs of American hops this is gentle and balanced: in the Goldilocks zone of double IPAs of not too sweet, not too bitter and not too heavy. Those who prefer the more extreme sort of double IPA may be disappointed but I really enjoyed it.
Dessert is from Mescan, in the form of their Westport Kriek, which has been out a while but has hitherto escaped my notice. It looks the part all right, pouring pink but a beautifully rich maroon colour in the glass. The jammy aroma suggests that they've bypassed any souring part of the process. I was expecting it to taste horribly sweet but there is a sour tang there which I'm guessing is down to the cherry alone: it's a very real flavour, the sort of tartness you get when you bite into a ripe black cherry. There's a heavy and rustic wheat beer behind this, a husky cereal quality, but really the cherries are doing all the heavy lifting. What I miss is the high attenuation you get in Belgian lambic-based kriek: this, at 5.4% ABV, is heavy and chewy, which isn't ideal. It's a good use of cherries and really shows off their character well but I don't know that "kriek" is the best word for it.
And before we batten down the hatches and make final preparations for the big day, one last seasonal. Fairy Ale of New York is the second special commission that Rascals has made for the Molloy's off licence chain and is a hop-bursted IPA of 5% ABV. Dark gold in colour the aroma is surprisingly muted, giving off a lightly lemony buzz. The flavour is a little bit on the down-low as well, with a waxy sort of bitterness balanced by nicely toasty malt, but not much actual hop flavour. The best feature is the aftertaste, where the lemon element hangs around at the back of the palate for ages. It's not the most exciting of IPAs but perfectly serviceable, and at four cans for a tenner would do well as an accessible party beer.
I'll sign off here and wish you all a very happy Christmas. See you next week for Twixtmas ramblings and my 2016 Golden Pints awards.
All together now: It was Christmas Eve, babe, iiiin the drunk tank...
Franciscan Well Jameson Stout - *Origin: Ireland | Date: 2012 | ABV: 7.8% | On The Beer Nut: December 2012* It's getting warmer in the stash. 2017's summer break is not far away, I'd say....
1 week ago