02 January 2017

Herd mentality

The Bite food festival has become a regular feature of the run-up to Christmas in Dublin. It's held in the RDS in late November and there's always been something of interest beerwise at it. In 2016 three breweries were flying the flag: Rye River, Galway Hooker and, of particular interest to me, Western Herd.

I hadn't really taken the time to get familiar with this Co. Clare operation's work. I missed them at the big September beer festival and several people mentioned them to me afterwards as one of the highlights. I've since really enjoyed their punchy Blue Jumper IPA. At Bite all four of the core range was on tap so I managed to fill in the gap of the two I hadn't had before.

First up I tried Fox Catcher, described as a red ale on the tap badge and I didn't notice it's a whopping 5.3% ABV, so I wasn't expecting much. It looked nice, though: a dark clear garnet colour. The massive pleasing surprise on first tasting is that it's nothing like an Irish red but is bang on style for American amber. The toffee is laced with bouncy hop fruit and there's a rich marzipan sweetness too. Before that all gets too heavy, a squeaky green bean bitterness swings in, leading to a dry and slightly astringent finish. It's very impressive and I have no qualms about Irish red ale quietly morphing into American amber, if that is indeed what's happening.

Siege Pale Ale didn't look all that different, being dark red again, though it's slightly lighter of ABV at 5.1%. There's not much by way of aroma and the sweet caramel malt flavour, while present, is in the back seat. Mostly this beer is a symphony in Cascade: it roars with the big earthy green acidity, by turns jauntily citric and sternly metallic around the edges. The bitterness level is turned way up making it remarkably invigorating and, like Fox Catcher, it finishes with a thirst-stimulating dryness.

What's particularly joyous about these two, and indeed Blue Jumper, is how old-fashioned they are. Mixing Cascade with dark malts is a decidedly retro move and something today's high-fashion brewers of Awesome Craft Beer™ don't much bother with. I for one am pleased to see someone still making a living out of this sort of beer, especially when it's this well done.

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