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 years ago, not the modern fluffy milkshakes. There's a serious yeast bite, all rough, dry and earthy. A heavy texture makes it hard work to chomp through. At no point is the experience lightened by any fruit or other fresh hop flavour. Back to Business? Back to the drawing board.

The most talked-about beer of the year so far came from YellowBelly. It hit the spot of having a daring recipe, tied in with a musical act and a festival at which they were appearing, and having a professionally-produced press release probably did no harm either. It's called Commotion Lotion, created in collaboration with Waterford dance act King Kong Company, and is a lager with pineapple, strawberries, raspberries and, as indicated by the name, Buckfast tonic wine.

It has the bright pink glow of freshly polished copper and the fruit is all up in the aroma: ripe and sweet strawberry plus sharply tart raspberry. On tasting, however, I think the wine comes to the fore, bringing a sweet and slightly unctuous plum or damson character, and the bitter tang one gets from their skins. The base beer doesn't have sufficient substance to add anything to that, which means the whole impression is of a fruity alcopop more than a beer. But it's very drinkable nevertheless, not at all sickly, and properly sessionable at just 4.4% ABV. The flavour matches perfectly the spirit of raucous fun in which it was designed.

To finish, a step sideways from the main brewery line and into the world of Otterbank, head brewer Declan's personal side project. The Galway Bay bars had his Salubrious Summer Stout on cask and I caught up with it at The Black Sheep. It's a Bushmills-aged Brett-fermented 10.4% ABV imperial whopper yet manages to retain its composure well, avoiding any real alcohol heat while also getting the honeyish Irish whiskey flavour from the barrel and keeping a smooth silky texture. Unsurprisingly there is a host of other complexities going on, from the coffee aroma to the strange mix of red wine and balsamic vinegar that laces the main stoutiness. I'm not sure why it needed a season appended to it since it would be a great slow sipper at any time of the year.

Shout-out to the YellowBelly crew who, if not hitting the nail on the head every time, are at least keeping things interesting.

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