06 March 2017

The Full Vermonty

New Englandish IPA. It's the style of the moment, though in the fast-moving world of beer fashion it may well have fallen out of favour in the handful of days between this post being written and published. It was almost a theme of the Alltech Brews & Food festival which returned to Dublin for a fifth run the week before last. Several stall-holders had brought along beers which purported to be in the style, though annoyingly I left things too late to try the one from Wicklow Brewery.

The first one I got hold of was Big Bunny by Kinnegar. It's 6% ABV but quite thin, which is definitely not part of the spec. Even through the foggy plastic festival cup I could tell that, while hazy, its appearance is far from the orange-juice opaqueness that's one of the style's hallmarks. And it's bitter too. This I enjoyed, finding that it added balancing pith to the beer's juicy fruit, giving an overall effect similar to Orangina, with an extra smidge of dankness. It's a good IPA but it needs feeding up if it's to be worthy of the style badge.

Wild Bat New England IPA was different but similar, going for spritzy mandarin in both aroma and flavour, and incorporating a solid dose of pith and spice into the latter. The appearance is a little hazier than Big Bunny: a bright orange shade. There was also a fresh and leafy green hop flavour which again I don't know is supposed to be part of the spec but makes for very tasty drinking.

The nearest offering to the real thing came via Four Corners, who were representing for BrewDog and brought along a keg of that brewery's BrewDog vs. Cloudwater New England IPA. It smells like any normal US-style IPA, all pine and grapefruit, even though it looks like a glass of custard. The main distinguishing feature is that texture: it's dense and fluffy, almost chewy but without the heat that that word sometimes implies. This creamy effect allows the mandarin candy flavour to spread across the tongue in a leisurely fashion and end up coating the mouth entirely. There are no sharp edges here at all: it's all hop with none of the bite. I rather enjoyed it.

There were plenty of other IPAs on the go as well: that's one general fashion that isn't showing much sign of subsiding. Rye River had two, launched under their McGargle's brand which has recently had a bit of a spruce-up. Both are named after the brewery's now-iconic Big Bangin' IPA (formerly "Francis' Big Bangin'", before the McGargle family were all moved to backroom jobs) though apparently the recipes have next to nothing in common. Which shows my crappy tasting abilities because I thought they were both rather similar.

Little Bangin' IPA holds the record for the most expensive beer the brewery has produced so far, something company owner Alan is begrudgingly proud of. It's 3.8% ABV and has an off-putting buttery aroma which, I am told, is a side-effect of the massive dose of Simcoe it got, and is not diacetyl. Either way, it will be addressed in future batches. The body offers no clue to its strength being perfectly full and round, something which allows it to carry the intense herbal and resinous hop flavours: no butter here, though a distinct pinch of savoury onion. This lacks the elegance of benchmark Little Fawn but, aroma apart, is a highly enjoyable session IPA.

And up the other end there's Double Bangin' IPA, double in the sense of being almost 1.13 times stronger than the original. This has the same buttery aroma as the little fella, and a similar onion cast as both its siblings, but there's an extra dimension of soft fruit that the others lack, a caress of peach and tangerine. That really rounds it out beautifully and does wonders to aid its drinkability. Once again the real ABV is well disguised, though this time in the opposite direction.

Keeping it double, the next beer was Unto the Breach, brewed at YellowBelly (who didn't attend) but served at the Hope bar. It's a collaboration between the two, if that wasn't totally obvious. To an almost 9% ABV double IPA they've added pineapple juice, and that's exactly how it tastes. There's a big, blousey, hard bitterness followed by a shockingly sweet jolt of real pineapple juice. And that's it. There's no particular hop complexity, nor any harsh heat, which makes it quite a simple offering and enjoyable as a novelty. No more than that, though.

Ireland's IPA maestros Eight Degrees had another one ready for release on their bar. Trans-Pacific seems almost old school these days, pale in the US West Coast style though clocking in at a modest 5% ABV. To Citra hops they have allied Aussie varieties Ella and Vic Secret. To me, the Citra was very much in control of the whole thing, giving it that powerful punch of herbal dankness and spicy bitter grapefruit. Like I say, old school, but in a very enjoyable way.

Those other IPA gurus at Wicklow Wolf had an interesting new one as well. Zoso is a SMASH IPA, brewed with the titular hop -- a new variety they picked up in the US -- and German Red-X malt. All new to me so I was dying to try it. Turns out it's not great, and I put a lot of that blame down to the style: red IPA rarely floats my boat. Something about that combination of sugary malt and bitter hop tends to come across as harsh to me, and this is a prime example. There's a lot of toffee in the flavour to begin with. The hop intensity does help dry this out a little but the hops really lacked nuance for me, presenting instead a blast of metallic bitterness and just a scratch of vegetal greenness. It was missing the fireworks and fun found in good American-style IPA, not least its own fraternal twin Lobo.

The long-awaited (at least by me) first IPA from Wood Key brewing was on tap at the bar they were sharing with Jack Smyth's brewery. They've been brewing at Jack Smyth's too, though are about to return to their previous home at Independent in Connemara. The Hunted Deer, for such is the beer called, bears a remarkable similarity to Independent's own Connemara Pale Ale. It's a tiny bit stronger at 6.2% ABV but it also has that intense dry bitterness, one that almost touches on astringency, squealing with pithy grapefruit. There's a little fruit-chew sweetness running in parallel but I wouldn't say it balances the bitterness so much as distracts the drinker from it momentarily. Definitely an IPA for those who like theirs with a bit of a punch.

And one more first venture into IPA territory came with Boyne Brewhouse IPA. It's another dry and grapefruity one but lacks the intense astringency of the previous beer. Instead there's a fresh and cheery citrus aroma and a gently-carbonated smooth, sinkable texture. This is a real true-to-style classic of American IPA and altogether too easy going for its 6.8% ABV. Danger here.

It was far from the only new release at Boyne Brewhouse. I'll take a look at the others tomorrow.

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