30 June 2017

Away with the gypsies

My final post for Indie Beer Week 2017, as we head into its second weekend and a new run of events, concerns the producers of no fixed abode, honing their skills wherever there's spare capacity: the gypsy brewers. Some of the country's most interesting beer comes from the peripatetic set, and three of them just happened to have new stuff in my field of vision lately.

At the moment, the headliner will always be Whiplash, of course. To paraphrase Frank Zappa, to be considered a proper beer country you must have an arthouse gypsy brewer -- a Mikkeller or at the very least a Stillwater -- and Whiplash is ours. Alex and Alan ran a two-day two-beer parallel launch last week bringing us the latest of Alex's creations.

I didn't like the first one. Body Riddle is a 4.5% ABV pale ale, and murky as all hell. One sip and I was back at The Kernel circa 2012: the hops give it a powerfully pithy lemon character but even their acidic intensity gets covered by the gritty yeast. To me it just tastes unfinished and raw, with too much of the bottle-dregs about it. There must be a sweet spot where it has been allowed drop sufficiently bright but still retains its fresh hops. That's when I want to drink it.

Its companion is the very different Saturate, an 8% ABV double IPA with an eye-watering dry-hop schedule and served in a tall labelled can. Mama We're All Cloudwater Now. Mosaic is the centrepiece hop and it's pleasingly tropical off the back of that: I got passionfruit as the main flavour, followed by just a slight tang of white onion adding acidity to the picture. The fresh juicy hoppiness lasts for ages and ages, buoyed along by the alcohol without ever being subsumed by it. Saturate is a textbook example of why 20g/L of quality hops is well worth your while if you want to make a beer people talk about.

Special thanks to team Whiplash, and everyone at The Taphouse, who staged a magnificent launch event last Thursday evening.

And where Whiplash has been concentrating on the fresh and zingy end of the scene, Dublin's own DOT Brew has been looking more at the funkier, heavier and darker side of the house. It was disappointing when its Dublin birthday party didn't include one from the most recent barrel-aged range, Bourbon Amber to Dark Rum Barrel, but delightful when it popped up on the taps at Bar Rua a few weeks ago. It looked awful and smelled wonky: a murky ochre colour exuding phenols and green sappy wood. The flavour is rum central: bags of molasses, dark and sticky; warm and boozy; yet all done at just 5.4% ABV. It took me a few sips to get into it but when I did I found it highly enjoyable. As well as the pure rum there's a dessertish complexity: the apple, raisin and cinnamon of a Sara Lee pie. And although it's intense, the flavours don't linger and it's very easy to shake off the palate when you're done. This is a strange beer, and slightly silly, but tremendous fun to explore, as Phil, Stephen and I did.

New from DOT last week was the second in the Seasons of Saison project: Summer. This one is 6.6% ABV and aged in a Chardonnay barrel. I found it on tap at 57 The Headline. It's a darkish orange colour, and slightly hazy with that. It opens sharply; primarily herbal with a softer coconut oil. The fruit comes next, mixing mango and apricot. This juiciness is brief, however, as the alcohol heat rises and a crisp spiciness brings the finish. Overall it's very clean, complex and orderly, the different flavour elements well integrated with each other. Of particular note is the way the fruit flavours have been extracted from the wine barrel without any of the wood or booziness. If the ABV were just two percentage points lower it would be a perfect thirst-quencher.

Gypsy number three is Brewtonic, though it's semi-settled at Rascals these days. I dropped into their city centre outlet Wigwam on a recent afternoon to try Easy Rider, their grisette, which I think is Ireland's first. 3.6% ABV makes it very approachable, though I don't think it's unreasonable to have expected the price of my half pint to be less than €3.50. It's a bright yellow colour, infused with just a little haze. The foretaste presents fresh honeydew melon while the finish brings a sharper peppercorn spice. In short it does most of the things that good saison achieves, and without any wateriness from the compromised ABV. The only thing preventing it from being a perfect quaffer is that price.

As I ordered that, the manager insisted I have a try of the new session IPA, The Little One. It was good enough for me to order a half pint of it too, to take a proper look. It's another summery golden job, with a resinous dank aroma but a foretaste of pure tropical pineapple. Though only 4.4% ABV the body is full, which is perhaps down to the use of Vermont ale yeast. When the fruit fades, a more serious spinach and cabbage green flavour kicks in and it leaves the palate with a film of pine resin. Neither element is properly bitter per se, being just acidic enough to be interesting. This definitely earns a place on my pinboard of good Irish session IPAs. Get it while it's fresh.

And that's it from me for Indie Beer Week. Don't forget to check the list for events near you.

28 June 2017

Belly accumulator

My sequence of posts in honour of Indie Beer Week continues with a look at just one of the 90-odd (some very odd) breweries currently operating in Ireland. Despite, or perhaps because of, the move to their new home we have had a veritable avalanche of new beers from YellowBelly in recent months. I can't hope to get my hands on all of them but this is what has come my way above in Dublin.

We start at one of my all-too-rare visits to L. Mulligan Grocer, where The Baron was pouring. This is an American-style red, heavily single-hopped with Columbus. It's quite a light-bodied creature, only 4.5% ABV and more orange-amber than actually red. This leaves it somewhat unbalanced, struggling to control the hop onslaught. And a strange onslaught it is too: there's a strong bitter perfume taste that reminds me of citrus-and-herb aperitifs, Campari in particular. The orangeyness fades first but the herbs remain, turning it more towards a Fernet Stock sort of flavour. This is a very weird beer and not at all what I was expecting. It is fun to explore, however: I'll grant it that.

Not far away, Token has opened its doors. This is Dublin's first arcade-bar, with vintage video games, the sort of street-food-inspired menu you would expect to find, and a modest selection of independent beers. On my visit I had some tasty pork sliders, a handsome bowl of short-rib chilli fries and a pint of YellowBelly's Commodore Berry.

It's a blackberry witbier and is an appropriate cloudy pink colour, though the wheat didn't do much of a job keeping the head in place. The berries are not overdone and the basic fresh-lemon witbier flavour is the main act. The blurb promises tartness but you really have to look for that. A low 4.4% ABV keeps it light and refreshing, and there's not much of an aftertaste, just a very slight jaffa bitterness. This is definitely not as much of a novelty as it's made out to be; you can decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I enjoyed it.

Bar Rua is a good spot for finding new YellowBellies, as well as being a lovely well-run pub in general. Here I found Back to Business, presented as a classic American IPA, 6.4% ABV with a roll-call of rock star hops including Azacca, Simcoe and Lemon Drop. All of which was wasted on me. My notes here are guessing if there's Fuggles in it. The pint I got was full-on murky, and tasted murky too. And by that I mean the murkiness of London pale ales from six or seven y