23 June 2017

Something out of the ordinary

One-offs, oddities and suchlike is the loose theme for this the second blog post from the 2017 Killarney Beer Festival.

A new beer from Kinnegar always gets my attention, and this was their first time at the festival, having picked up the grand prize in the beer competition last year. Making its début this time was Great Arch, which is a blonde beer broadly in the Cologne style but dry-hopped. There's a quite a bitter aroma, acidic and sickish, but that's the only bum note. The flavour is perfectly fresh and clean, showing juicy peach at the front and a more serious oily hop resin rising up behind. It's only 4.9% ABV so gets the job of refreshment done, aided by a light body, soft carbonation and a quick finish on the flavour. Summer is written all over this one.

Despite the bright-sounding name, A New Dawn from St Mel's is anything but. This is a new black IPA, modestly strong at 5.5% ABV, and properly black too. It hits the style points incredibly well, with a heady red cabbage spice in the aroma and then a flavour which blends citrus zest and dark roast. This is another beer which clears off the palate quickly and cleanly, though it rounds out nicely as it warms, showing more of its porter characteristics. A bit more hoppy punchiness would be nice, but it works very well as-is.

Late last year James Brown Brews produced Wayward Sun rye pale ale as an exclusive for the Carry Out off licence chain. I don't have one anywhere near me so missed it, but was glad to see it on his bar at Killarney. It's 4.5% ABV and a striking pinkish colour. Thanks to the rye it's mostly quite dry, with a particularly acidic burn in the finish and an aspirin tang in the aroma. But this is balanced by ripe tangerine notes, rounding off the edges and aiding its drinkability. It's a simple and unfussy beer, complex without demanding too much from the drinker.

I wish I could say the same for Arthurstown Grapefruit Pale Ale: it also goes for that sharply acidic angle. It doesn't balance it properly, however, and the result is astringent, overly bitter and just difficult to drink. They can't be blamed for skimping on the grapefruit juice: that's present, front and centre, loud and clear, but the rest of the package isn't up to the job of taming it, unfortunately.

Last of the new Irish was Wild Bat Hefeweisen [sic] from Corrib Brewing, the latest in their series of specials I last met back at Alltech in February. I was a little suspicious of the low 4.5% ABV but it makes good use of what it has, aiming for light and crisp instead of heavy and fruity. There is a major banana element to the profile, but it's not overly sweet or cloying. This isn't a style we see a lot of among Irish brewers so it's refreshing to see one turned out in solid workmanlike fashion.

For a footnote, Steve was sharing bottles from his stash again. This time it was 2014 Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, a mixed-fermentation barrel-aged bière de garde, though tasting far more like a Flemish red, by Swiss brewery BFM. "Bon-Chien" was the name of the brewery's cat. This probably passes as next-level humour in Switzerland.

Perhaps there's something to be said for leaving this sort of thing to the Belgians because this really wasn't good. It looked fine: a pinkish-red shade, and the aroma starts out OK with an earthy funky waft. It all goes a bit opening-the-Ark-of-the-Covenant after that, the vapours suddenly turning powerfully acidic, though merely burning the nose hairs rather than melting one's face off. The flavour is extremely balsamic, all resins and retsina, given extra concentrated power at 11% ABV. That's at the front of the palate anyway; at the back of the throat it's just pure acrid burning with no complexity, certainly no subtlety, and frankly not an ounce of fun. Cheers for the experience, Steve, but I think I might give the other vintages a swerve.

Just as well there were plenty of palate cleansers out on the festival floor. Particular shout-out to the long-awaited return of YellowBelly Summer Ale, twisting classic English hops into a new-world-style pale ale. Perfect refreshment as the sun sets on Killarney for another year.

21 June 2017

Bring in the new

As in previous years, twenty Irish breweries took stands at the Killarney Beer Festival. This year, unfortunately for my ticking predilection, the line-up veered a little away from the local breweries -- no West Kerry, no Eight Degrees, no Black's of Kinsale -- and in favour of breweries I meet all the time in Dublin: Wicklow Wolf, Boyne Brewhouse and The Porterhouse were among the first-timers for 2017.

Anyway, there was still enough to keep me occupied for the weekend. Of particular interest was a slew of new specials from Manor Brewing but before that, a bit of pre-festival research revealed that I'd never written about their flagship lager Mont, even though I've always enjoyed it. It's not a beer of bells and whistles, just a superbly produced pilsner, well balanced between the light (yet not thin) malt body and a waxy kick of classic noble hops. The carbonation is low enough for easy quaffing too. An all-round class act, basically. So what about the newbies?

There was the Belgian-style dark ale which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, and also a dark lager, infused with oranges, plus extra Seville orange soakage at the point of dispense. The name: Black Is The New Orange. I'll confess it took a while for the orange side of it to open up for me. To begin with it was just sweet and roasty black molasses and treacle, tasting a little heavier than 5% ABV would suggest. Then the fruit kicked in, giving a pleasant, but mild, zesty punch in the finish, and a sweet aroma of chocolate and marmalade that's disturbingly close to a freshly opened pack of jaffa cakes. It's a fun beer overall, and I like how it didn't lay on the novelty too heavily.

Two new IPAs from Manor were on tap as well. Triumph & Disaster is the regular one at 5.7% ABV. I was surprised, though charmed, by the highly malt-forward aroma, full of rich and calorific cake and biscuit. The flavour serves up the hops old-school: earthy Cascade dominating, but balanced nicely by the crystal malt behind. It's not a complete '90s throwback, however, there's a spark of modern complexity in the pear and white peach juiciness that runs through it. Not a world-shaker, but nicely put together.

Its companion imperial IPA is called Bigger Than Ben Hur and at 9.2% ABV has clearly been designed to shake something. (Excuse the terrible picture: it was understandably late by the time I got to this.) The hops this time are Amarillo and Wai-iti but to me it bore a strong resemblance to its little brother. There's that cake thing again, as well as the peach and pear. It's perhaps not as hoppily punchy as the best DIPAs but it does lack any cloying sickly heat or sharpness, which is definitely in its favour. Fans of the style may find it lacks impact for them, despite going all-out with the ABV.

Also working the multiple-new-beer angle for me was Boyne Brewhouse. I had missed their Oatmeal Stout at the Alltech festival back in February but it made a reappearance on the bar here. This one certainly gets its money's worth out of the porridge bag: it's massively thick and gloopy, despite a quite reasonable 6.2% ABV. It uses that extra heft to add complexity to the flavour, and as well as the standard roast coffee and chocolate I got sweet ripe strawberries and a heady spicy aftershave note. Very much a beer for sipping, this, for reasons both of texture and flavour.

And brand new on the Boyne roster was an Imperial Saison. I keep saying how strong saison isn't my thing but I've now met three badged as "imperial" (including Stone's last week) which I've found highly enjoyable. This one is 7.8% ABV, a pale milky colour and arrived without much by way of a head. It smells of pear, which put me on high alert for acetone solvent flavours, but there aren't any. Instead it's amazingly crisp and clean, refreshing even, without an ounce of heat or excess fruit. It is, in short, everything a saison is supposed to be except for the percentage number on the tap badge.

Finally for today to local boys Torc and a couple of new offerings. They actually had three but I only spotted their new red as I left to get my train on the last day. Neither of the other two really floated my boat, however. There was a Barrel-Aged Porter at just 4.6% ABV which I suspect just didn't have enough beer substance to balance the barrel. The end result tasted of butter, vanilla and sawdust.

5% ABV Kingdom IPA was also new to me, and also lacked the desired cleanness. It's a strange purple-ish colour and is extremely sweet, showing the synthetic fruit characteristics of red lemonade. I'm afraid I can't help you with this analogy if you've never tasted red lemonade, but suffice it to say that lemons do not feature. There's a certain red fruit purée element as well and a slick, almost sticky, body. Perhaps this has been constructed to suit local tastes but it wasn't my sort of IPA at all.

More from the festival later this week, with some more rapid flitting between the bars. It's good to get a bit of exercise.


19 June 2017

Rail ale

The 2017 Killarney Beerfest kicked off on a sunny Friday at the end of May. As per, I headed down on the train and used the spare couple of hours to catch up on a few bottles that had been sitting in my fridge a little too long.

First up, as we pulled out of Heuston, was White Gypsy's Toasted Special. No style is specified, only that it's dark and leans heavily on its Munich malt. And so it proved. It's rather muddy in the glass and smells rich and wholesome. The flavour is milk chocolate first, backed by a drier balancing roast. The sweetness builds as it warms up, bringing in a slight metallic tang. I reckon this is one for drinking cold, though it's a shame that 5.8% ABV precludes session drinking unless you're a card-carrying Maß-toting Bavarian. I don't know whether it's top or bottom fermented, but if you're looking for the Munich dunkel experience without too much bitterness, this is the best way to get it from an Irish brewery.

Portlaoise approaches and it's on to Humdinger, hazy again but pale this time, 5% ABV, brewed with a lager yeast and using Cascade hops. It's still pretty sweet but there's a beautiful peachy complexity on top of the biscuit. Again I think it would have benefited from a lower serving temperature than was practicable on the 11am to Cork. There's an almost jasmine perfume spice but also a pleasantly drying tannic tea effect. The body is heavier than a typical lager but still allows it to be thirst-quenching: think good English bitter, with a similar soft and easy-going texture. I'm of the opinion that both these White Gypsy beers would be amazing on cask. If a pallet is being put together for the Irish bar at this year's Great British Beer Festival they'd be excellent additions.

Northbound's convention of naming their beers after the IBU quotient meant that I left 60 to last, popping the cap somewhere around Thurles. It's a bit rough if I'm honest; there's a homebrewish vibe about it. The style designation is "Crystal Amber", and yes I know what Crystal malt is, but the word does create a certain expectation of clarity which this murky brown number definitely does not have. Brown bread and yeast spice are the long and the short of it. I say "spice" rather than "bite" because it's still smooth and surprisingly unbitter, given that weighty IBU measure. I did enjoy its crusty, savoury stylings: there are no jarring off-flavours, but one expects a degree of cleanliness from a beer in the ~€4 bracket and this really has an amatuerish feel to it. I'm not sure if that's a criticism or not.

Mallow approaches, and the change for the Killarney train, followed by a cavalcade of new beers.

16 June 2017

The Stone inversion

The beer that held the record (until today) of languishing longest in my drafts folder without a proper write-up is Stone Imperial Saison. That picture there was date stamped 12th March last, taken in The Tap House in the aftermath of their White Hag event. I feel terribly guilty about not getting to it sooner because it definitely deserves a recommendation. Normally I'd run a mile from saison at 9.4% ABV but it was the end of the night and my guard was down: you know how that works. This does have a thick and heavy texture, but that's as far as the imperialisation goes. The flavour is clean and still quite crisp, with an assertive but not overblown level of white pepper and a wisp of mint humbug on the end. Best of all there's no hot and sickly fruit which is always the danger when saison gets notions. Although it's a sipper -- in defiance of proper saison rules -- it's still a very nicely put-together beer.

And from a strong version of a normally weak style to a weak version of a strong beer. Little Bastard is a brand extension from Stone's long-established strong ale Arrogant Bastard. This is 4.7% ABV and a coppery brown colour. It's a very old-fashioned flavour, reminding me of typical salt-of-the-earth English brown bitters. There's bags of tannin, to the point of astringency, but not much by way of malty substance. Bookending the flavour is a vegetal bitterness at the front and a sugary caramel aftertaste. If you'd told me this was a bottled bitter from a Victorian family brewery in the home counties, I'd have believed you. If you'd told me it was McMullen's AK I'd probably have nodded along. Arrogant Bastard famously boasted of its depth and complexity, but this variant seems to have stripped both those things out leaving a decidedly anodyne red ale.

A one-all draw for Stone Berlin, after considerable extra time and one golden goal.

14 June 2017

The Austrian succession

Today's beers were picked at random from an off licence shelf in Utrecht. It wasn't until I got them home that I noticed they're from Austria. The branding is very different from my pre-conceptions of sturdy traditional Austrian brewing, but then I suppose it must have an awesomely epic craft beer scene these days, same as everywhere else. Both are by Bevog brewery, founded in 2013 in the far south east of the country, hard by the border with Slovenia.

For all the drama on the printed can of Kramah IPA, there was no action when I pulled the tab. It poured out thick and lazy, with little sparkle, a desultory head and lots of yeasty goop at the bottom which I just avoided getting in my glass. The aroma is a rather plain oily jaffa thing -- Slovenian hops at work? -- and the flavour is much more about the biscuity malt than anything else. There's a strong pithy bitterness at the back, running long into the aftertaste, but no fresh top notes at all. This dullness is accentuated by the lack of sparkle and a body which feels much heavier than 6.5% ABV. There were four months to go on the best-before so it could be that this is simply past its best, but it wasn't at all as thrilling as its artwork.

We move up from there to an 8.2% ABV double IPA called Shower Beer (bathroom photo location purely for comic effect) which had a longer date on it though didn't smell any fresher. Despite the clean-looking golden colour there's a stale, almost lactic, aroma. They've gone all-out for savoury in the flavour, with a big hit of garlic and onions right from the start. It's not unpleasant, and the big malt-laden double IPA body provides a sweetness that helps offset the harsher aspects of the savoury. There's a very slight citrus tang -- more of those jaffa oranges -- just on the finish to further balance it, while the finish is a waxy flavour that belongs more in a bock more than anything in a new world style. It's a bit all over the place, really. It passes muster as a double IPA but really lacks the fresh and bright hop characteristics which make the style worthwhile. I'm less inclined to believe the freshness excuse this time round.

Hurrah for diversity and all that, but a decent helles or dunkel would definitely be my preference to either of these.

12 June 2017

Will I, won't I?

I always have a bit of back and forth when new Cloudwater beer lands. I know everyone will be talking about it and I'd like to be part of the conversation, but the beers are terribly expensive and too many of them aren't any good. The phrase "sucker juice" always jumps to the front of my mind when I'm looking at those arty cans in the off licence fridge. This time I thought I'd just go for the cheaper ones: a fiver a can, which is still pretty steep for low to medium strength beer.

Cloudwater Seville Orange Sour is certainly low-wattage, at just 3.5% ABV. A dark orange colour, opaque and headless, it looks like Fanta in the glass. And it tastes like... Diet Fanta. There's lots of unmistakable orange flavour, but there's very little else other than water and fizz. It's certainly not very sour. While this is far from unpleasant, I don't really see the point of it. It's thirst-quenching, I guess, but it's too thin, too one-dimensional and definitely not a fiver's worth of beer.

Higher hopes, then, for Session IPA Citra Mosaic. It looks similar, mind: hazy and orange. The aroma is fabulously juicy with just a slight edge of red cabbage spice. The texture is fantastically smooth and carries a magnificent soft hop flavour, with the tropical mango and apricot of Mosaic and the lemon zest of Citra but only minimal bitterness. It's one of the most sessionable session IPAs I've ever tasted, the softness making it highly gluggable. Classic stuff, and about the only session IPA that gives Little Fawn a run for its money, even if it does cost as much from the supermarket as Little Fawn does in the pub. It would need to be cleaner to compete fully, though.

That gave me the confidence to go shopping again and shell out the whopping €7.50 for NW DIPA Citra. This seems to be the end point of Cloudwater's numbered double IPA sequence that's been running for the last year and a bit. Yeast from JW Lees has been used again and the poured beer looks like elderly custard: a dull yellowy beige. The aroma is fully in keeping with the New England style: sweet in two ways, with sticky mango juice and stickier clove rock. It smells like it's going to be hard work. It's not though. There's not a trace of heat, despite an unreasonable 9% ABV. And it's not especially sweet either. It's savoury in an alium sort of way, with the burn of raw garlic, and then a spicing of nutmeg and clove, leaving a residue of citric lime. Confused by how Citra was doing all of that I turned to the back of the can to discover that Hüll Melon, Mosaic and Simcoe are also involved. Well that makes a lot more sense. What amazes me most is the subtlety. It's so smooth and unbitter it's almost sessionable, though at near-wine strength that obviously would not be a good idea. Part of me thinks I should be getting more flavour for my money but another recognises the technical achievement of making a double IPA with this lightness of touch. It's still too much money for one beer, though. I might leave it a while before my next one of these from Cloudwater.

09 June 2017

Rocky three

A trilogy of beers from Colorado today, mostly ones that have been around a while that I'm only catching up to.

Mountain Standard, brewed for when the clocks change in the autumn, has a kind of built-in freshness indicator. I'm guessing you're not meant to be still buying it in April but there I was. It's a black IPA, and a big one at 8.1% ABV. Held up to the light it's more a red-brown colour than properly black. The hop aroma hasn't disintegrated entirely, still whispering hoarsely of grapefruit and pine. The flavour is happier, if no hoppier, with savoury caraway seed and spicy resinous frankincense. There's a little liquorice blackness but no trace of heat from the alcohol. Like most of Odell's hop-forward beers, then, it's balanced, complex and subtle. I'd love to try a fresh one but I guess that will have to wait.

My can of Priscilla, the Oskar Blues witbier, is of an even older vintage, packaged back in July. "Ale with spices" is all the label unhelpfully says, and that it's 5.2% ABV. It pours inauthentically clear though there's a rich and sweet fruit and herb aroma and flavour that's absolutely unmistakably Belgian. I get beautiful trilling high notes of clove rock, green banana, passionfruit and coconut, making what's often quite a plain style into a multifaceted jewel. I'd fault it only on the density and sweetness: both of these things start big then inflate further as the temperature goes up, the distinct complexities giving way to a sickly mush. Drink it cold for best results, is what I'm saying.

The time machine rolls ever backwards with this can of Oskar Blues IPA, the beer having been in there for just over a year when I got to it. I wonder when they stop selling it? This is a pale and hazy number, a light shade of orange even though the ABV is a weighty 6.43%. Unsurprisingly the aroma is severely lacking, smelling just of hard fruit candy. There's a mostly quite savoury cereal quality in the foretaste, glutinous porridge and a spinachy bitterness. I think I can see the gap where the bright and banging citrus hops are meant to go, but they're gone. Dry grain, hard bitterness and hot booze: all the hallmarks of a zombie IPA. I put this one out of its misery but felt sorry for it and its shelfmates left to rot like this.

Not the cheery note you expect when you come to shiny bright American beer cans but that's how it is. If reviews of less-than-lab-condition IPAs make you cringe, check the dates and take it up with the retailers, not me.

07 June 2017

Dark dogs

Thou shalt not judge a beer by its IBUs, thou shalt not judge BrewDog by inches of news.
-- Zak Avery, 2013

As usual I'm skipping past the boring controversial legal and marketing stuff and going straight for the liquid: two new BrewDog stouts, both pitching the strong and sweet angle.

Self-Assembly Pope was the first to hit the shelves, back at the end of last year. This is 7.4% ABV and includes coconut, cocoa and vanilla. It's a proper brown-black and forms a decent head on top of that. Coconut is usually a pleasant and fun addition to stouts but I have a to make an exception here. The beer is dry and rough and quite unpleasantly bitter. On top of a severe ashen roasted quality there's also a sickly-sweet element added by the chocolate and vanilla, and the two sides of its personality clash unpleasantly. It's sharp, harsh and pretty much the opposite of what beers like this usually have going for them.

I was hoping that the more recent Semi-Skimmed Occultist which followed would be an improvement. The coconut has been swapped out for coffee, there's extra lactose, and the ABV has been raised to the full 8%, all of which should have a smoothing effect. Let's see... It seems denser and darker in appearance. There's definitely none of the harshness of its papal predecessor but there's also not as much going on. I'd nearly go so far as to say it's a bit bland. Yes the vanilla, coffee and chocolate all play a part, and this time they're in harmony with each other, but none of them raise the volume very high. As it warms, the alcohol becomes more prominent, eventually talking heatedly over the top of the other elements. Pleasant but not exciting is my verdict. Damning, perhaps, for a drama-craving brewery like BrewDog.

I guess this pair raises the issue of whether something smooth and bland is better than a beer that's interesting but in the wrong ways. I guess it is: if Semi-Skilled Occultist were a strong stout from an anonymous Belgian brewery I'd probably be into it. You'll just have to put up with my pickiness.

05 June 2017

Summertime smorgasbord

With midsummer fast approaching it's time for another random selection of Irish beers I've encountered over the last few months.

We got a new addition to the Eight Degrees Single Hop Series in the form of Lemon Drop IPA, which I caught up with at 57 the Headline. It's a hazy dark orange colour and although the same ABV as the rest of the series at 5.7% it's much more restrained in its flavour. Above all, it tastes sweet: a sugary lemon meringue pie effect, building in intensity but only to key lime pie levels of bitterness. It never really leaves the dessert trolley. I'm reminded of those novelty dessert beers that were all the rage 15 minutes ago, it even has the sticky quality they get from added lactose. Overall it's OK but I really miss the punchiness for which this series could hitherto always be relied on.

And it's not the only sequence Eight Degrees have been adding to. The Good finally arrived, third in the Three Dukes of Burgundy barrel-aged series I covered the rest of back in March. This 10.9% ABV barley wine looked unpleasantly muddy in a tall narrow glass but rather more handsome in my wine goblet: a deep sunset ruby. It smells like a Garibaldi, all crisp biscuit and dried raisin. There are two conflicting sides to the main flavour: a sweet toffee and grape foretaste followed by a rasping harsh and slightly herbal hop bitterness. The oak makes itself felt somewhere in the middle in a rough and resinous way. The viscous texture helps smooth out some of the discord but I reckon this would benefit from further ageing, even allowing for its already-delayed launch. Cellar it if you've got it.

Bringing up the rear in their recent releases is the inevitable NEIPAlike, Cumulus Lupulus, badged simply as a "cloudy IPA". There's a good bit of the classic Eight Degrees magic in this one. While it's definitely cloudy, though a darker orange than most New England-style IPAs, and it does have a touch of the signature soft texture, it's massively, beautifully bitter. The pithy lemon kick I got from this belongs way over on the American west coast, far from Vermont. A gentler fruit sweetness swings in behind, but it's not the Starburst sweets of a NEIPA but more the juicy tang of real peach and mango. This very proper IPA posing as the latest trend is definitely the kind of bandwagon-jumping I can get behind. And not a trace of yeast bite, before you ask.

More New England IPA, you say? Well OK: here's Rascals Foggy Juice, currently on tap at Bar Rua. Per the name, this one goes all-out for juice with barely any bitterness behind it. From the very first sip I got hit with a cavalcade of tropicality: mango, pineapple and some even sweeter passionfruit. There's a danker buzz behind this, an oiliness with a touch of pine resin but all flavour-based without any harsh acidity. At 6.2% ABV it's relatively light and while it has a certain softness and slickness it's not that mouth-coating candyfloss texture that's one of the style's hallmarks. I think this is my favourite Irish take on NEIPA so far. It offers something quite different to the bold bitterness of Cumulus Lupulus and it's not really fair to compare the two, but its bright and colourful tropical hop flavours make it a beer I could drink a lot of.

That arrived almost simultaneously with Purple Grain, a lager that Rascals produced in collaboration with Parliament Street pub Street 66 (formerly The Front Lounge) which launched yesterday evening. Orange peel is the bonus ingredient here and my pint even came with a strip of rind in it. I think the orange flavour is still a fundamental feature of the beer, however, and there's a lot of it. I got a sense of Aperol or Campari from the intense and oily bitter orange effect, the zest coupled with a floral jasmine spice. Its lager qualities do contribute to the clean base but not to the taste, which is all novelty hijinks. I liked it, but it's really not for the considered drinkers of serious proper lager. The name probably gives that away from the start.

For a summer's evening, Guinness Irish Wheat, the latest special edition from the Dublin behemoth. It looks the part of a weissbier: a hazy shade of yellow, with actual sediment in the bottle. The ABV talks the talk too, at a substantial 5.3%. The label boasts of using Guinness ale yeast and I think that's why the flavour doesn't quite live up to the real thing. There is a certain amount of banana and clove in here, and a refreshing spice that makes me think more of witbier than weiss, but it's very muted. "Subtle" says the label, which it is, but is that a good thing? I'll grant that it's not bland, but there are a million Bavarian weissbiers like this out there already. I don't get why Guinness would want to put a dent in Erdinger's market share for one season. If you happen to be an Erdinger fan, however, give this a go: it's right up your Straße.

But if you want a bit more stimulation from your summer beer you could do a lot worse than YellowBelly's Fruit Bastille if you see it around. Originally launched in July last year, I caught up with an early cask of this year's at The Black Sheep a few weeks ago. I understand the recipe changes which means I'm not bothered by my inability to identify exactly which fruits are put to work in this muddy amber-coloured tea-infused pale-ale-ish arrangement. It smells of sweet mixed fruit, very like the pastilles alluded to in the name, and this explodes outwards in the foretaste delivering a blend of blackcurrant, lime, apple and more. Yet it's not a sticky cordial, it's light and clean, aided no doubt by the added tea. And even though it was served on the warm side, even for cask, it's still magnificently refreshing. So yes, it's another one of those interminable novelty beers but it's a hell of a lot better, and better value, than the majority of other ones, as novelty becomes beer's new normal.

The Wexfordians also had a new double IPA doing the rounds last month. It's called Are You Not Entertained? in honour of the hop mêlée therein, comprising Columbus, Simcoe, Lemon Drop, Mosaic, Simcoe, Ekuanot, and Citra. They've wedged the words "New England" on the badge too, no doubt just to give the sales an extra boost. It's 9% ABV, dark orange in colour and topped by a tight mousse of foam. There's a big front-of-palate bitterness, a rasp of grapefruit skin scorching the mouth. This fades to let soft candyfloss and mandarin appear, but only briefly. The bulk of the flavour, including its long aftertaste, is harshly acidic hop resins. It fits the double IPA spec with no more than a cursory nod towards Vermont, and is just too bitter for my taste. No sir, I'm afraid I am not entertained.

Back to summer beers again next, and over to Hope. The last in their series of limited editions was their Oatmeal IPA, reviewed back here. The new Summer Session IPA seems to be a relative of it, also including oatmeal in the grist and coming out a hazy pale yellow colour. The ABV has been reduced to 4.5% and there may also be a nod to the session IPA that kicked off the limited series last summer because this has a similar fresh hoppy bang in the flavour. The juice and pith of a mandarin orange are the first gifts it brings to the palate, followed swiftly by a dank resinous edge and some sharper spring onion greenness. As these fade there's a rising soft and fuzzy peach element, not disimilar to something you might find in an IPA of the New England variety. This is an amazingly multidimensional beer, pulling all manner of hop gymnastics, but if you want to just quaff it back and enjoy the juice -- which I think is what the brewery intended -- it absolutely works like that too.

Not explicitly badged as a summer beer but definitely playing that angle is Walt, just out from O Brother. It's a watermelon wheat beer, the first Irish one since Rye River popped out a small-batch experimental one a couple of years ago. And just like that beer, this one doesn't really work. It looks well, another bright pale and hazy one. The first mouthful produces an icky soapy flavour, harsh and chemicalish, increasing in bitterness for the first few unpleasant seconds. A genuine watermelon flavour arrives as that fades, but this speaks more of the waxy green skin than the juicy red flesh. I'm wondering if it's a clash of the hops and the fruit that causes the roughness in its flavour: it seems strange that it's derived from the fruit alone. A slightly acetone jolly-rancher waft is the closing remark, leaving a sticky soapy residue on the palate. It's entirely possible that this is just what watermelon wheat beer is supposed to taste like, in which case I know to pass on the next one I'm offered.

James Brown has a new one on the go, switching brewery from Brú to Reel Deel. It's a pale ale of 4.5% ABV called Semantic. Rye, Cascade and Chinook says the helpful label, and a deep orangey-ochre says the pint glass I poured it into. It smells very enticing: a mix of fruity candy and cloudy lemonade. The malt reasserts itself darkly on tasting, with an almost smoky vibe, but then the spritzy lemon sherbet swings back in and lightens the tone. And that's pretty much it. The citrus bitterness does build pleasingly as it goes along but there are no further bells and whistles. It's just a solid, bright and happy US-style pale, ideal for summer drinking.

It's back to the Headline next, for a new one from Manor Brewing, the Wicklow brewer (currently contracting at Boyne) best known for Mont lager. This offering is quite different: a strong dark Belgian abbey-style beer called Tall Poppy Syndrome. I'm not giving it too many marks for Belgianosity: it's too thin for one thing, and lacks the plum and raisin I'd be expecting from an actual dark abbey or Trappist beer. It does, however, have a beautifully complex mix of other stuff. I got ripe strawberries and pipesmoke at the beginning, followed by black treacle and some drier roast in the middle. Then it finishes off cleanly with little by way of aftertaste. It's a profile that left me thinking of those strong dark milds or Victorian-style porters you occasionally find in England. Good stuff however you look at it. This was the first non-lager I tried from Manor, but there are several more to come in my round-up of the 2017 Killarney Beer Festival. All in due course.

01 June 2017

pHew!

 A weekend dedicated to sour beer definitely needs a few sweeter options sown through it. So it was with the Toer de Geuze weekend. I was sufficiently occupied not to need the services of many pubs, but I did cross the threshold of a few, and there were some late hotel nightcaps as well.

But we start with Leffe. I haven't paid too much attention to AB InBev's flagship Belgian ale recently, though it has been making an effort to get my attention. The "Leffe Royale" range débuted back in 2012 and each iteration has put a specific hop front and centre in an otherwise identical 7.5% ABV golden ale. Naturally, Leffe Royale Cascade IPA was an early member, and it's still around. I picked one up late-night in Carrefour. And I was dead impressed by it too. It's heavy and warming, though not overly sweet or cloying, and has a lovely bright and spicy hop character. The base beer's density and the yeast esters keep it from being over-bittered, allowing the hop flavour to really shine. I got fresh apple and sandalwood from this -- not typical Cascade flavours by any means, but a very enjoyable and not-at-all-dull beer.

That was enough of a positive experience for me to give it another go a day later. This time it was Leffe Royale Mapuche's turn, a beer which uses the exotic Argentinian hop. Same colour, same strength, of course, and a lot of the same sandalwood spicing, so I guess that's the Leffe yeast's contribution. The hop flavour is very perfumey, perhaps rendered more intense by the beer's viscosity. I get a sweetly citric key lime pie effect in the flavour, and a refreshing cloudy-lemonade finish, much more thirst-quenching than it has any right to be. Given the opportunity I think I'll be trying more from this range. Whether they're of any educational merit from a sensory point of view is debatable, but on this showing they're remarkably tasty, and deliciously cheap.

Interesting hops is one way to get my attention. Just standing in front of me is another, and that's what the Leffe marketing folk did when they set up a festival bar dispensing free samples right in the middle of Centraal's ticket hall. I confess it was the dinky little plastic tasting goblets that convinced me to look closer: who says you can't buy class?

As well as the Blonde and Brune they were offering Leffe Rituel, a 9% ABV golden ale which I had never heard of. Fill 'er up. This tastes much more on-brand, being a rather one-dimensional mix of strong Belgian beer flavours, toffee and banana in particular. There's no spicing or other complexity, and no off-flavours either. If your requirements are just for something hot and heavy, Team Leffe has got you covered.

A couple of other random bottles, picked from the supermarket shelves for hotel room drinking: Kustbrouwerij's Dronkenput I chose solely for the disturbing imagery on the label. It's a dark brown ale of 8% ABV and tastes like a mix of toasted grain and ripe cherries. Nice, eh? These flavours are presented wonderfully cleanly with very little by way of esters or heat. Much better than I was expecting from a random pick.

I didn't have such good luck with Ichtegem's Grand Cru but, again, curiosity was satisfied. This 6.5% ABV Flemish red is clearly going after Rodenbach with its styling and name. I tend to find Rodenbach Grand Cru rather harsh for my taste, and so is this: a burning acidity coupled with some extreme fruit sugar for a kind of sweet chilli dip effect. The tomato and vinegar mix of cheap ketchup is also in there, and some tart raspberry for extra weirdness. Yeah, no thanks.

The inevitable bar crawl back to the airport included the inevitable visit to The Hoppy Loft which had just opened for the day. We kept things international in the rounds here, starting with Italian brewery Hibu and their scotch ale Nessy. It's the appropriate dark red colour and smells mostly of toffee with an extra bitter liquorice complexity. Smoke enters the picture on tasting, turning the toffee towards burnt caramel and adding a strong savoury fried edge to the sweetness. It certainly tastes and feels stronger than the very reasonable 5.8% ABV. It suffers a little bit from the kipperiness that sweet red and amber beers often show when smoked malt is employed, but is still quite enjoyable.

I convinced herself to try The Cream Ale by Anspach & Hobday, mainly because I'm still trying to get the hang of this style and I reckon the Londoners would acquit themselves quite well with it. It arrived pale gold and slightly hazy with a disconcerting rubbery aroma and more than a hint of cream ale's key ingredient: sweetcorn. Thankfully that's missing from the flavour and instead it's assertively hopped. I got very sharp green flavours from it: leek, asparagus and spinach, the Germanic noble hop profile which has turned me off many a beer, but it works here. I was surprised to learn from the brewery's official description that Sorachi Ace is doing the business in this one. I can usually spot its distinctive flavours a mile off but didn't twig it this time. Anyway, I suspect that the big hopping is not at all typical for cream ale so I'm not going to give the style a pass just yet.

The next two came from Quebec's Dunham brewery, beginning with Propolis, a saison. It looked unfinished: a densely murky beige colour. The aroma was much happier, if unsaisonlike, with an ice cream character, all vanilla and coldness. There's lots of yeasty spice in the flavour, but it's not heavy, gritty or savoury. Instead it has a musky perfume complexity and a base of crisp grain. A strange beast, but really multifaceted and fun to explore.

The other was called Cyclope Êta, an IPA. In stark contrast to the Propolis next to it, it's a bright clear gold colour with just a very slight haze if you look closely. And while that beer was odd this one is downright weird. The aroma is of sandalwood and there's a bizarre caraway seed flavour: crisp and savoury. At least some of this must be down to a hop variety I'm not familiar with: Pekko. Though there's Azacca as well and I would expect that to bring at least some fruit character, but there's no fruit, no real bitterness, just strange spices and savouries.To be filed under "too weird to enjoy".

Last call, in what is very likely to become a tradition, was at Brasserie 28 in the station. The blackboard hadn't progressed significantly from a fortnight previously but there was still a couple of new beers to tick. Corne du Bois Pendus Tripel is one, stablemate of the dark beer I covered in this recent post. And like the dark one, it's quite understated in its flavour, which can be a good thing in a tripel. No hot and heavy fruity esters here, but lots of herbs: fennel, sunflower seeds, eucalyptus on a clean toasty grain base. Not terribly exciting overall but quite decent.

And ticking off another of Caulier's own range, 28 Pale Ale. It's 5% ABV with a vague kind of peachy flavour and a wisp of Belgian yeast spice, but that's pretty much it. The rest is just a watery void and I swear some mouthfuls of this tasted of absolutely nothing. I departed Belgium with a palate cleaner than I really wanted.

It's two years until the text Toer de Geuze and I feel I have unfinished business. Hanssens, Timmermans: stay there, I'm coming for you.