22 May 2017

Advanced for his age

Dublin's DOT Brew celebrated its first birthday with a slew of new barrel-aged small-batch beers, brought out to meet the public in Idlewild (and later Abbot's Ale House in Cork) a few weeks ago. The Idlewild event was fun, with only three lines dedicated to the selection so turnover was quick. If only life could be like this more often.

First of the newcomers was Teeny Tiny Barrel Aged Pale Ale. As the name hints, this is a mere 3.5% ABV. The barrels in question are Chardonnay, where it spent 9 months and the resulting aroma is fantastic: a sumptuous juicy white grape ripeness. I was down to earth again with the first sip of the clear gold liquid: it opens with quite a harsh pine sawdust flavour, which I'm guessing is the oak at work. The Chardonnay fruit does come out increasingly as the beer warms, and delivers a refreshing tartness in the finish, but after a while the fruit and the wood become overpowering. There just isn't enough heft in the underlying beer to counterbalance them. It's a fun experiment, but one which could do with a little fine-tuning next time out.

The next beer also highlights its smallness, going by the name of Baby Bourbon Birthday Barrel, though there's not much babyish about its 6.2% ABV. It poured black and headless, giving off a husky woody aroma with a pinch of vanilla thrown in. That develops beyond a pinch in the flavour, with vanilla becoming the dominant feature. The wood calms down and it's all very gentle and chocolatey after that. Great dessert drinking.

Tequila Saison was next on the roster. This is light and clean, saison as it should be, founded on dry grain husk flavours with a burst of white pepper spice right in the middle. The tequila has definitely made its mark on it, and there's more than a hint of that sweet prickly pear fruit flavour that's particularly prominent in the likes of Sierra Nevada's Otra Vez. The novelty feature doesn't dominate, however, and allows the beer to maintain its classical saisonosity. There's a lightness of touch here that belies the frankly unreasonable 6.2% ABV.

From a 6.2% ABV beer that tastes light to a 6.5% ABV one that tastes much much stronger. Cherry Choco Bourbon Dark leaves little to the imagination, being a dark ale aged in bourbon barrels with added cocoa nibs and morello cherries. It gets great value out of all that, resulting in a veritable sweetshop of flavours, opening on Parma Violets and Highland Toffee bars and moving through Opal Fruits, Refreshers and even a Bounty. Though thick and quite oily it's light enough to not get cloying as the multifaceted flavour kicks in. This is a sensation and would really shine in bottle form.

The final beer is a big-hitter at 9.5% ABV, named Cab Sav Malt Rye, based on a brown ale with three kinds of rye and double barrel ageing: the Cabernet Sauvignon followed by Irish whiskey. It tastes very strongly of chocolate, so much so I was wondering if it had got mixed up with the cherry chocolate one. There's a bit of cherry fruit character, but boozy, like cherries soaked in port. You end up with something along the lines of Mon Cheri chocolates, which is great 'cos I love them. The texture is light despite the high strength, and despite the roll call of serious ingredients it's an incredibly fun beer to drink.

I tend to be quite sceptical of advanced barrel-ageing with weird ingredients. For a lot of brewers it's just gimmickry, at best well-intentioned, though sometimes I suspect only done to make the name of the beer look awesome when written down. But this set from DOT has, for the most part, really got the best out of the barrels used. Hopefully we won't have to wait a year for the next set.

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