28 April 2017

The year DOT

My blog is 12 years old today. I'm using the opportunity to catch up with a local brewer whose beers I've been gathering notes on for months and am overdue actually doing a post about. The brewer is DOT, a Dublin-based outfit. I last met its proprietor Shane at an event in Teeling's Distillery back before Christmas. I tasted a few of his then-new releases, and bought a few more to take home and intend to drink for ages but not get around to.

DOT Amber Ale was the first I tried on the day. The accent is very definitely more on the hops than the malt in this one. It's relatively pale, for one thing, only 4.5% ABV, and places a bright and fresh citrus juiciness at the heart of the flavour. Though there's none of the toffee often found in the style, a certain creamy texture starts to emerge when it warms a little, with a touch of coconut about it, but it stays clean and keeps pushing the American hop flavours. Lovely.

I wasn't so keen on DOT American Stout. Despite the name, this uses New Zealand hops and there's a strong hit of the medicinal eucalyptus flavour some of them give. The intense dryness doesn't help this at all either.

On, then, to the set of bottles I brought home and finally opened a couple of weeks ago.

01: The Origin is a red ale Shane has used as the base for a trilogy of experiments. I could have bought the three-pack of all of them, but I'm annoying like that. It's big for the style at 5.6% ABV and poured a dull ochre colour with little by way of head. The aroma suits a heavy red, being toffee and red liquorice, while the flavour is dry and grainy to begin with, before opening out into summer fruit, meadow perfume and finishing on a strongly assertive bitterness. Despite the complexity it never loses sight of its roots, still a soft, easy-going down-to-earth sort of beer. I nearly regret not paying in to find out where the story went from here, but the other beers available were far too distracting.

So next up is DOT's Barrel Aged Roasted Oat Stout, a 6.5% ABV job in a classy paper sleeve. There's a bit of a homebrew twang off this one: a touch of meaty savouriness and a fruity side that speaks of temperature control which is not what it should be. The dryness I was expecting is quite low and there's surprisingly little roast. It does have the soft smoothness of oatmeal as well as the slight putty tang I often find in beers that use it. While a certain vanilla element from the barrel is present, it's not overdone. Redcurrant jelly is the flavour analogue it keeps bringing to mind: it has that same sort of dense homogeneous texture, as well as the sweet tart fruit. On balance I'm not sure I like it: while it's certainly complex, the flavours I enjoy in stout are absent, and I miss the extra spirity booze that tends to come with barrel-aged stouts, if the barrel did something fun before the beer went it. This one is just a bit too serious and plain.

The last of the set is one I'd had back in Teeling's originally and was impressed enough to make sure I brought a bottle home. It's DOT's Champagne Beer, using three yeast strains and aged in Chardonnay casks, and it does an amazing job of picking up the champagne qualities into what must have been a perfect base blonde beer. The fruit level is off the scale with succulent white grape, soft juicy melon and the green edge of kiwifruit. The back label mentions pineapple and yes, I get that as well. All the soft sweet and juicy notes are here and it's very difficult to believe we're facing 8.3% ABV when it's so lightly textured and easy drinking. I thought so when I first tasted it -- and stand by my view four months later -- that this is one of the best Irish beers ever made: massively complex yet exquisitely balanced, it verges on perfection.

Bringing us (I think) right up to date is DOT Spring Saison, the first of a promised sequence of seasonal saisons. A hazy deep orange colour, it's a substantial 5.9% ABV, but plays things light and breezy with a soft, juicy and above all fresh peach and melon flavour. A dry sharpness builds gradually as it goes -- and it goes quickly -- giving it the classical saison pepper. It's complex enough to be interesting but also works as a beautiful thirst-quenching refresher, albeit one which could do with a point or so knocked off the strength. Maybe the summer edition will do that.

DOT celebrated its own first birthday last night in Idlewild with a swathe of brand new beers. Look out for reviews of them in a post here soon. A couple gave that champagne beer a run for its money in the phwoar stakes.

26 April 2017

The naughty step

For over a year now The Fine Ale Countdown podcast has been assessing the relative merits of the world's beers, one at a time. Each beer gets a numerical score, resulting in a league table, and attention tends to be paid more to the upper end of it, especially the hallowed top five. But every league table has to have an arse end and I don't know exactly what's in the lower reaches of this one (update: now I do), although two beers do get mentioned regularly as being especially unpleasant, and they're two I had never tasted until I went out and made a point of finding them.

One is Wolf Rock, from Molson Coors's craftish sub-brand Sharp's, which the guys reviewed back in their first ever episode. It's a red IPA and widely available in supermarkets, which is where I found mine. "Sharp's, Rock, Cornwall" says the label, along with an explanation of where in Cornwall Wolf Rock is, and the small print that says it's actually brewed up north in Cheshire. I'm not predisposed to liking red IPAs and that bit of flim-flam didn't help.

It's a dark mahogany colour, the head not sticking around for long and giving off a harshly metallic aroma, like aspirin. Again: not looking good. But the flavour isn't as bad as expected. The texture helps enormously: it's full and smooth and round, helping it slip down your gullet before your brain has registered what's happening. What's happening is a toffee sweetness rubbing indecently up against a tart fruit flavour, a bit like a toffee apple, but with the elements more blended into each other. That metallic aspirin twang is still there, and there's a raspberryade artificial fruit sweetness. All of this should be clanging together madly but it just about manages to harmonise. It's still not pleasant, though, There's a total lack of distinct hop freshness which means the letters "IPA" no more belong on the label than the word "Cornwall". The FAC guys were more than fair in their slating of this.

The other whipping boy is Siren's Pompelmocello, and I was a little surprised that this didn't go down well as the brewery generally turns out great beers. It's a bit of a confection, being a soured, fruited IPA with added lactose. I made a special trip to Alfie Byrne's to give it a go.

For some reason I was expecting it to be cloudy but it's actually a clear and innocent orange-gold colour. There's a lightly funky aroma and on tasting the sourness is definitely understated. Instead of being the main event, the acidic tartness helps accentuate the juiciness of the fruit, and I got fresh ripe mandarin flesh as the centrepiece. Behind this is a veritable fruit salad with sweet pineapple and white grape, plus a certain syrupyiness which I'm guessing is the lactose at work, and it does start to get a little sticky as it warms up. Overall, though, I absolutely loved it: it's a very good example of the sort of clean and hoppy sour beer I like. That the podcast team do not was made apparent in their round-up of the Alltech Brews festival where Eight Degrees's sublime Wayfarer sour IPA came in for a bit of stick. Each to his own, I guess.

As it happened, while I was in Alfie's they had another Siren fruit IPA on: VIPA. This one is not soured but oaked, fermented with a Belgian yeast and with added blackcurrant, raspberry and hibiscus. All that for just €6.30 a glass. None of the elements really jump out from it. It smells like a forest fruit yoghurt and the flavour has a harsh and sticky jammy quality, with a bitter metallic edge on it. There's no proper beer character anywhere, which is especially surprising given the use of Belgian yeast and the distinctive flavours that that tends to bring. Some cleaning sourness would really improve this picture, I reckon.

It turns out, then, that Siren is quite capable of taking mis-steps. Pompelmocello is definitely not one of them, however. Don't believe everything you hear on the Internet.