07 March 2017

A new dawn

It was a dark and frosty midwinter morning when I arrived in Andrew Jorgensen's car to Boyne Brewhouse. Andrew is head brewer at the brewery outside Drogheda and he had invited me along to witness a special moment in Irish brewing that totally wasn't just yet another beer being created out of the usual stuff. The plan was what we believe to be Ireland's first, and still only, decoction-mashed lager. This slow process is commonplace in Czech and German brewing and involves taking small volumes of wort out of the mash tun, boiling it, and putting it back in as the mash progresses. The idea is to maximise the efficiency of the grain but in doing so it's also said to alter the beer's texture and flavour and is what gives Czech lagers in particular their famous character. (If you want to read more on the technicalities, and words like "betaglucans", Andrew's account of the brewday is here.) In order to use up some Vienna malt that was lying around, the recipe was for what became Boyne Brewhouse Vienna Lager rather than something pils-y. And at the Alltech Brews & Food festival at the end of February it went out to meet its public.

I only had a little taste of it at the festival, which isn't the best way to test out a 5% ABV lager, but I definitely got a sense of central Europe from it. In particular it's the body and the sweetness, the big fluffy candyfloss roundness I associate most with Pilsner Urquell. The flavour has a golden syrup quality, more like Budvar, given a strong greenly bitter kick from the Tettnang hops. What did surprise me, however, was the colour: it's a clear bright gold, as best I could tell through the awful festival beaker. I'd have expected redder for a Vienna lager, and a touch of toffee in the flavour too, but that wasn't there either. No matter. It's a very nice pale lager and a sign that maybe there is something to this decoction business after all.

That was one of a number of new releases from Boyne Brewhouse at Alltech. Up until now, in 17 months of operation, they've only been brewing their core range under their own brand. Now those three have been rebadged, with the names Born In A Day, Long Arm and Pagan's Pillar consigned to the same retirement home as the McGargle family. Born In A Day, now "Boyne Brewhouse Pale Ale", has been reformulated somewhat to be smoother and less bitter. And joining them we had...

Boyne Brewhouse Imperial Stout, available in a number of barrel-aged iterations. I only had a taste of the raw oak one, the barrel presumably a bonus from the company's nascent whiskey-making project. It's 10.8% ABV and very much down-the-line for the style, lots of sticky brown sugar and a serious grown-up bitterness to balance. There were no madly loud oaky flavours, indeed it tasted less oaky than many a bourbon-aged stout I've met, but there was vanilla: balanced, well-behaved vanilla. I'm sure this stout is a great base for all sorts of projects but it works just as well by itself.

I mentioned the brewery's IPA yesterday, leaving just Boyne Brewhouse Saison as the other new one I got to try. No surprises that it's a bang-on, true-to-style iteration of saison, though in the stronger sub-bracket, despite a modest 5% ABV. What I mean is it's big on fruit, with the classic strong-saison melon rind and concentrated peach nectar. There's a definite alcohol heat to all this which makes it a bit tougher to drink than I'd like and which isn't properly held in check by the bitter hop bite or white pepper spicing. It does all the things saison is meant to but I'd prefer if it did them more quietly.

Boyne Brewhouse wasn't the only brewery with new beers to show off at the festival. Tomorrow I'll have a look at some from the other bars, plus some brand new brewers as well.

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