08 March 2017

Expanding horizons

We're hitting the half-way point of my Alltech Brews & Food 2017 round-up, and a few new releases from established breweries to begin with.

I don't think Aidan from Galway Hooker took well to me pointing out that his was the most-established Irish brewery in the room. It's coming up for ten years since I first tasted the flagship pale ale, which is eons in Irish brewing time. The range has expanded somewhat since then and the Hooker bar was pouring two new limited editions. Well, new-ish, in one case. Alt Fact is a variation on the dark wheat beer which first appeared in 2009, and was later revived as Opus II around 2012. And the new one? Not bad at all. Your standard dunkelweisse caramel and brown banana notes are present and correct and they're balanced against quite an old-fashioned herbal liquorice bitterness. Not world-shakingly exciting or anything but decent drinking.

Next to it was Galway Hooker Rye Ale. It's a bit of an experiment, this one: unfiltered, which is unusual if not unique for the brewery, and utilising HopShot™ extract in the conditioning tank. An opaque dark orange colour, it smells funkily acidic, like a ripe squashy grapefruit, and grapefruit is doing the business right at the front of the flavour too. A rye sharpness swings in behind it, doubling down on the dry, squeaky character, almost like green beans, but fruitier. Despite the haze, that dryness equates to cleanness, and the overall beer, at 5.5% ABV, is exceedingly moreish.

Two dark additions to brewery ranges next. I don't know how long Wild Bat's Dark Matter stout has been around, but it has found its way into bottles with a label and everything. At 4.2% ABV it's pretty much your classic, or indeed standard, dry Irish stout. Maybe a bit drier than most, the roast soaking up moisture from the palate with all of the chocolate complexities confined to its aroma. There's a bit of a putty note in the midst of it which I didn't care for but otherwise it's grand.

And Rye River also had a stout: McGargle's Extra Stout, no less. This starts as a quite a plain version of the style: 6.5% ABV, robust of body and clean and dry in its flavour. But after a second or two there's a new complexity which unfolds, a sweetish floral perfume effect. It's not dissimilar to the hop spicing found in O Brother's Bonita, but is calmer. This is a thought-provoking stout, and one I'd like to spend more time with.

But that's not how the festival works, so on to the brand new exhibitors, the companies whose beer I'd never tried before.

Irishtown Brewing has been on the scene for a few months now, with their flagship lager Dublin Blonde appearing as the craft option in many non-beer-specialist pubs around town. The recipe was designed by Cuilán Loughnane of White Gypsy and the beer itself was brewed at Hope. I wasn't expecting any crazy flavour somersaults from this one, but it definitely does what's asked of it, being a squeaky clean pale lager with a soft texture and just enough of a celery noble hop bite to keep it interesting. Irishtown had also brought along their Dublin Red pale ale, which was brand new. It's not quite right, however, with a serious smack of butter in the aroma and a flavour which allies this with coppery metal. I understand the recipe is up for revision so maybe give it a while before you try it.

And finally to Bridewell Brewery. This brand new micro, opened last year in Clifden Co. Galway, has been a long time coming. It's a joint venture by husband and wife team Harry Joyce and Barbara-Anne McCabe, and I'd seen Barbara-Anne's name associated with Irish brewing for ten years or more, while the brewery's name has cropped up in various places as well, so it was great to actually get a hold of its beer. Interestingly, their brew kit is the original one from The Porterhouse in Temple Bar so it's good to know that that piece of Irish brewing history is still operational.

Bridewell Blond is the one and only beer so far. It's a session-strength blond ale made for the local market. A bit like Dublin Blonde above, it's clean and quenching, though the combination of Polish and Slovenian hops give it a serious bite, reminding me a lot of my grassy friend Saaz. There's enough weight in the malt base to keep those hop flavours afloat for a long sharply bitter finish. This is one of those beers that you'd find yourself very glad of if in a rural pub out west with otherwise-terrible beer options.

That's enough beer for this post. We'll take a look at some of the more outré offerings tomorrow.

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