17 April 2017

Easter parade

I haven't done one of these Irish beer round-ups for a while and the note pile has been building. With the Easter weekend nearly over, here is a selection from breweries around the country and pubs around Dublin.

But starting at home, I'm already two Dungarvan seasonals in arrears so began with Curious Orange, another saison, following on from their popular seaweed one. It looks lovely: a rich orange colour and carefully poured for clarity. 6.9% ABV gave me a scare when I saw it advertised on the label but thankfully it's not one of those hot and thick saisons, being clean and attenuated instead, with pepper rather than fruit as the main feature. The added ingredients are sweet orange peel and thyme and it's the second one of these that shouts loudest. In the aroma it's a lovely oily winter herb thing, like a decongestant rub or the garnish on a roast. In the flavour, however, it gets a bit harsh, creating a deafening klaxon of bitterness that all but drowns out everything else. Thankfully the base saison is robust enough to just about survive the onslaught but the poor orange peel doesn't stand a chance. It's a bit of a workout to drink and I think could be as good as the Seaweed Saison if the thyme were dialled back a few notches.

No sooner had I put that away than Magic Road rye IPA had appeared. It poured a bit flat but did manage a head, while also pumping out a heavy grass and citrus aroma familiar from Kinnegar's classic Rustbucket. A sip revealed the carbonation to be as low as expected. I appreciated the gentle sparkle, reminiscent of many a cask ale; doubtless there are others who would just describe it as flat. The dominant aspect of the flavour is bitterness, backed by a distinct bitterness, rising to become bitter before leaving a long bitter residue in its wake. This beer is bitter. There isn't much room for nuance in that: I couldn't say it's grapefruit bitter, or cabbage bitter or rye-grass bitter. If anything, I get the harsh tang of a metal pencil sharpener from it. A bit more cleansing fizz would probably help fix the severity, and perhaps that will develop when the beer gets longer to condition than this one did at a mere two weeks in the bottle. At least there's no risk of it losing its subtleties with age.

Finally for the home set, King's Bay Maple Ale from Arthurstown, picked up in SuperValu. It's a mild mannered 4.4% ABV and a pale amber colour. The aroma is sweet and grainy leading me to expect something weighty and sugar-filled on tasting but it manages to keep matters light and clean. There's nothing I'd specifically cite as maple, but there is a vague woodiness and an unanticipated waft of autumnal smoke. If I'm finding faults it's that it's all a bit boring. I miss the days when a brewery would totally mess up a beer spectacularly by whacking a load of syrup into it, but this isn't that. It's easy to sling back and fits into the space that Irish red occupies best: have it at the barbecue; drink it with your fry-up; meat meat meat, you know the drill.

Back to the fruit beer next. YellowBelly's Juice Wayne is a double IPA brewed to a recipe designed by my fellow blogger Irish Beer Snob. It was produced especially for the Beer Now conference in Sheffield last month but has been making appearances around Dublin, Cork and Galway too. Lemon and lime zest are the bonus ingredients here and they make a big impact on the bitterness. It's quite severe to start with, a citrus intensity that has a spark of the bathroom cabinet about it. After a moment or two it calms down a little, reaching the level of an old-fashioned gritty lemonade. As an IPA it's a bit of a bust: the hops are absent, or drowned, from the flavour and there's basically no aroma, nor indeed any of the titular juice. It's perfectly refreshing though, once you're used to that bitterness it's complemented well by a light texture which is very unusual for a 7.1% ABV beer. An extra little complexity creeps in as it warms with a whisper of sandalwood spicing, but it doesn't go quite far enough to fix the intensely harsh pith.

That was in The Taphouse in Ranelagh, and was followed by a visit to The Hill to try their wonderful new dim sum pop-up, Lucky Tortoise. As an aperitif I chose High Cotton, the new one from Whiplash, brewed as a collaboration with Max Lager's of Atlanta. "Belgian single" is the style designation in scare-quotes, dry-hopped and with added grapefruit. It tasted like a witbier to me, and not an especially good one. There's a major soapy twang of the sort you get when a wit has over-done the fruit and herbs. I wasn't able to pick out the grapefruit, finding it tasted more like lemon: refreshingly bitter, like the beer before it. A decent burst of oily green peppercorns adds a little bit of a counterpoint, but again this beer just tastes too harsh for my poor delicate palate.

Just one other beer in this set gets an added flavouring and that's In Cahoots, a elderflower-infused sour beer brewed by The White Hag for the Brewtonic project and available in all the Bodytonic pubs. White Hag's head brewer Joe would like it made very clear that this is the only kettle-soured beer the brewery has made: all the other sour ones are mixed-fermentation beers, using the house culture. With that disclaimer out of the way, I get to explore a pint of it in The Back Page. It's a bright pale gold colour, almost green, and a very pintable 4.8% ABV. Concentrated honeydew melon is the first flavour I noticed, mellowing to a kind of botrytised Sauternes sticky sweetness. Then it suddenly turns a corner leading to an abrupt tart finish. While great fun at first, it does struggle to hold one's interest after the first few gulps and I found myself getting a bit bored of it by the second half. As a low-ish ABV house beer, it's probably not meant to be anything more than decent and quaffable, which it definitely is, but that tantalising complexity feels like something they should be doing more with. Just don't ask me what.

Speaking of brewery/pub tie-ins, the Licensed Vintner's Association, which represents Dublin's publicans, turned 200 years old this year. To celebrate, Diageo brewed a special beer for them. There can be no better indication of the close and long-standing ties between the two organisations than the fact that I paid €7.25 for a pint of it in The Temple Bar. Guinness Dublin Amber is the name, and it's a 4.5% ABV ale, served nitrogenated. The first sip stayed my cynicism somewhat. There's an inarguably good fresh citrus spritz, a puff of lemon sherbet to the back of the tongue. Proper hops. I'm not sure of the mechanics of what happens next, but that all just... goes away. It could be the nitro, because the next dominant feature is the claggy creamy viscosity, doing a foam fire extinguisher on the palate and covering up the action. A bland stale-biscuit taste is all that remains, familiar from many a low-grade nitro Irish red. I expected that the lost lemons would re-materialise at the beginning of the next mouthful, but they don't. This is a pint of pure bait-and-switch and really best avoided, at any price. It'll be around all summer but if you miss the limited edition you can probably recreate it by leaving a pinetree-shaped car air-freshener to soak in a pint of Kilkenny.

Just down the street, I dropped by The Norseman for the first time in ages, to try the latest from Carlow Brewing: 51st State New England IPA. The idea of such a long-established microbrewery producing this cutting-edge on-trend beer style seems faintly ridiculous. Mind your hip jumping on that bandwagon, granddad. And the pint I was served in The Norseman did little to dissuade me of this prejudice: dark amber and brilliantly clear, it's almost the direct opposite of what NE IPA is supposed to look like. But again the first mouthful stopped my guffaws, a little bit at least. Yes, it's properly -- deliciously -- bitter, which the style shouldn't be. But there's a beautiful bouncy softness to the texture which is entirely appropriate. The fresh hops lend it a kind of lemon sorbet or lime milkshake sort of effect and the combination of citrus and softness works rather well. Nearly as enjoyable as the indignant howls of the style purists. Well played, Carlow Brewing.

A few days later I was further along the street again, at The Porterhouse where they were pouring Retribution, a new black IPA from Eight Degrees, brewed with input from Terrapin of Georgia, USA. It's a dark red colour and comes in hard and heavy with a punchy green-cabbage bitterness. There's rye in mix and the spicing it brings is the next noticeable element, turning that leafy green cabbage into a spicier red one. A lightly roasty dryness adds a certain stout-like quality, but really it's all about the big green. I was surprised to find myself enjoying the way the veg from the hops combines with the grass from the rye. It's not harsh or any way overdone and the beer is refreshing and remarkably easy drinking, even at 6.2% ABV.

That's enough Temple Bar boozing; turning south next, and up Camden Street to Bourke's. This is a tiny stand-up bar at the front of Whelan's music venue, occupying the space that used to be their off licence. The beer selection is mostly from the independents though it's definitely going more for an old-fashioned pub vibe than a trendy craft beer bar. Maybe that's even more trendy. Like I would know. They've made a feature of their cask offer though I didn't try that on my brief visit, captivated instead by the house lager. Whelan's is brewed at Brú and it was the second version of the recipe that was pouring when I visited. Mine host explained that the first version was deemed "too malty" so that was dialled back for this one. Too far, I think. The body is decently full but there's a weird savoury umami flavour, like shiitake mushroom, and then a nasty plastic or pasteboard twang. It still manages to be pretty bland, though: those off-flavours don't jump out the way they do in some wonky lagers. I was given a bottle of version one to try at home, which I did, and it was much better. I can see where the "too malty" argument comes from: it's big and chewy, with a weighty melanoidin cookie and golden syrup vibe, but it's characterful and quite tasty with it. Maybe there's a sweet spot to be found between the two recipes but personally I'd just run with the first one again.

Journey's end for this virtual meander is 57 The Headline. Landing in in search of something else I was struck by the neon stylings of Eighties Baby, badged as being from "The Beer Council", I'm told it's brewed at Carrig. The badge also tells us that this IPA has been dry-hopped with 7.5g per litre of Summer and Ahtanum hops, which sounds like it should be plenty but my tastebuds thought otherwise. There's a soft mineral texture and a very vague nectarine sweetness, but not much beyond this, just a slightly sweaty sharp tang. Maybe it's because the branding reminded me of the excellent Vacuum Boogie IPA from Rascals Brewing, but I was left rather forlorn and disappointed by this one.

A new Irish dark lager always brings an air of excitement for me and 57 was the first place I found Wicklow Wolf's Brayvarian Dunkel. It's the correct shade of cola-brown, with a very Mitteleuropa thick pillow of froth on top. Chocolate and caramel opens the flavour but it quickly turns dry and gritty. Green leafy hops swing in next, giving it a blackstrap or liquorice herbal bitterness. While 100% in keeping with the style, this was a little bit overdone for my tastes. I'd prefer more of that milk chocolate smoothness and lower bitterness, but fans of the more grown-up dunkel flavour profile will doubtless enjoy it. I give it a polite round of applause for at least giving us more local dark lager, but I'd pick White Gypsy's Dark Lady over this.

That leaves just one final beer, and it's a biggie. The Fresh Prince of Kildare is a 9% ABV New England-style double IPA and it's one which believes its own hype. I was mistakenly given a pint of the custard-yellow substance, very nearly boss-poured to the brim. There's still space for an aroma of fruit candy to waft out and I was all set for a mouthful of bubblegum, candyfloss and pink unicorn farts. Nope. This stuff is bitter as hell, with a lot of the spicy red cabbage kick found in the very different Retribution black IPA above. When the intense acidity subsides there's a more orthodox grapefruit and pine aftertaste, which is still pretty damn punchy. Amazingly it manages to avoid tasting harsh, which I'm guessing is down to the texture, and that miracle Vermont yeast that creates it. So, this isn't the true New England effect any more than 51st State is, but it's a beautifully made clean-tasting hop-bursting moreish double IPA, deserving a place at the end of everyone's drinking session.

And this is the end of mine, for now. I'll try not to leave it so long until the next one.


  1. That Dublin Amber is being sold at premium prices around Lucan too. Shame as it's like Harp on nitro.

  2. I didn't mean that to sound like Harp on nitro would be worth paying *anything* for :)

    1. There was a nitrokeg version of Tennent's in the mid-90s but poor neglected Harp never got that treatment.