26 May 2017

What's brewing?

The National Homebrew Club's annual conference returned to Smock Alley Theatre in April. As usual there was a stellar line-up of home-brewing royalty, both local and international, sharing their wisdom through the course of the day. Not with me, though: I was only there for the after-party, by kind invitation of the (very) outgoing president -- cheers Thomas!

For the ensuing bottle share I brought a bomber I took home from Portland last year, Culmination's 4 & 20 imperial black IPA, a 9.5% ABV monster. I figured that seven months' maturation wouldn't have done much for the aroma but it still smelled bright and fresh, of damp grass in particular. The texture is beautifully smooth and there's mercifully no high alcohol heat, but the flavour is the weak point. Not that there's anything wrong exactly, but it lacks any distinctive features: there's no punch from the hops, nor any tar or liquorice or spice or other complexities that one might expect to find in a black IPA of this calibre. The bottle did get finished, though. Eventually. So what did everyone else bring?

Steve opened with a bottle of Shepherd Neame's Mashtun No. 1, a strong ale the iconic Kent brewery produced in 2014 to celebrate said mashtun's centenary. I don't know whether it's the age or something in the base beer, but this was absolutely disgusting. "Mmm... funky..." was my first thought, followed by "Arrgh! Too much funk!" It's sharply rubbery at first, swerving into less offensive but quite cloying HP Sauce dark fruit and spice, before finishing with a long, long twang of dry rot and corked Burgundy. This is easily the worst beer I've tasted this year; I think it's the persistence of that rank aftertaste that makes it so offensive. What else is there?

Thankfully there was a very good palate-cleanser on tap courtesy of Wicklow Wolf. Their Born In Bray was (I'm told) a commission from their neighbours at The Harbour Bar for a light session beer. The result is a 4.2% ABV pale ale, single-hopped with Mandarina Bavaria. It's certainly light and sessionable, served on the cold side there wasn't much malt in evidence in the flavour but the texture was far from thin or watery. The hops give it an odd combination of flavours -- I got hints of coconut and a touch of onion in amongst the jaffa and satsuma zest -- and the whole thing is just complex enough for interesting drinking, while also perfectly capable of being knocked back to slake a thirst. Recommended if you're heading Bray way some sunny day soon.

Back to Steve's stash, then. Telegraph Brewing of California is next, and Buellton Silent Partner, a saison. It's one of the strong ones at 7.4% ABV and suffers a little from alcoholic overheating. Unfortunately the alcohol doesn't carry a whole lot of flavour with it: there's just some light white pepper and a whiff of peach in the aroma. Beyond that it's quite plain and inoffensive.

The Bruery's Humulus Terreux is another Californian take on a broadly Belgian profile, giving all of the fermentation work over to Brettanomyces yeast. Guess what? It tastes and smells like Brettanomyces yeast. The aroma is a heady, musky funk, with just a little lacing of honeydew melon for complexity. The flavour is pure farmyard, however. If you're still at the phase where Bretty funk impresses you by itself then here's a beer that will knock your socks off. I got bored of it fairly quickly.

Third time's the charm: Lectio Divina is a Trappist-inspired amber ale by Saint Somewhere Brewing in Florida. The label says 8% ABV but it tastes much stronger than that, heavy and cakey in the middle w