13 January 2017

Cheeky cans

Today I'm looking at the initial three packaged beers sent to me by one of Ireland's newest breweries, Lough Gill Brewing, in Sligo town. It's the creation of entrepreneur James Ward, who previously set up the neighbouring White Hag Brewery before leaving the company and, like White Hag, there's a definite eye towards the US market with these. Unusually he has chosen 440ml packaging, with the observation that it's fast becoming America's favourite can size. These ones aren't quite legal in Europe as they only display the capacity in US imperial units: 14.9 fl. oz.

I started with the brown ale, Mac Nutty, which is 5.5% ABV and flavoured with macadamia nuts. It looks the part: a rich chocolate brown colour with a generous topping of café crème foam. The aroma is similarly attractive -- caramel, raisins and hazelnuts -- while the flavour raises milk chocolate notes and just a very slight bittering edge for balance, no more than you'd find in a decent piece of dark chocolate, with an added subtle tang of blackcurrant. The best feature is the texture which is luxuriously smooth. This, combined with a sweetness level that doesn't build or cloy, makes it slip down indecently fast. Brown ales are too much of a rarity in Ireland but this one serves as a fine example of how to do them well.

Given the massively asymmetrical nature of Irish brewing it's perhaps surprising that there isn't more macro-bashing going on. There was, of course, The Porterhouse's infamous initial releases of "WeiserBuddy" and "Probably Lager" but not much since. Lough Gill seem to have decided to take no prisoners with their naming, and so the pale ale is called Thieving Bastards, in part, perhaps, as a nod to a certain Heineken-owned pseudocider, but making reference also to the provenance controversy which raged last summer and hasn't gone away you know.

It's almost as dark as the brown ale, pouring a deep garnet colour with a beige head. A long way from pale. I don't get much of an aroma and the flavour is surprisingly dry, with a substantial portion of roast. In fact it tastes far more like a porter than a pale ale, with maybe just enough light summer fruit and toffee to tip it into the Irish red ale category, albeit a strong one at 5% ABV. And like most Irish reds, it's pretty inoffensive: the deviance from style is about the only thing I can criticise it for. Perhaps I was too ready to read "American" in front of the words "Pale Ale", where "English, circa 1970" is more appropriate. I queried this with James who confirmed that "ESB" is the style they were shooting for. That makes sense, though it would have been a good idea to mention it on the label.

And finally the totally legit and trademarked Heinoweiser: an IPA of 5.5% ABV. We're staying on the dark side, though this is merely amber coloured. Malt is ahead in the aroma, toffee mostly. The flavour is predominantly sweet too, combining the milk chocolate from the brown ale with the grainy roast of the pale ale. I can barely make out any hop notes at all, which is a bit of a mortal sin in an IPA these days -- there's just a very vague tinny bitterness. The overall impression is of an IPA that's been aged past its best but I know that can't be the case.

My overall impression is that Lough Gill has got the hang of malt all right but definitely needs to put a bit more work in on hops.

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