26 June 2017

Ireland goes indie

For the first time ever it's Indie Beer Week in Ireland. It has been since Friday but it only occurred to me yesterday to dedicate a week of blog posts to the vibrant independent beer scene in this country. To begin with, a hasty spin around the Republic to look at new releases from various Irish breweries, some of whom are participating in the week's events.

And starting at a brand new brewery very close to home. Priory in Tallaght opened its doors last month. The first beer is a 5.3% ABV IPA called Original Sin. The thick layer of sediment in the bottom of the bottle concerned me a little but I did manage to pour it fairly clearly, giving me a deep orange-amber glassful with a well-retained white head. The aroma is quite muted with just a very faint orange cookie smell. The texture is light and smooth, almost cask-like, which is always pleasing in a bottle-conditioned beer. The flavour, perhaps unsurprisingly from the colour, is quite malt-forward, with a rich and wholesome breadiness and a mostly unobtrusive dash of yeast. Mosaic and Citra are the principal hops and the latter gives it a sharp limey pinch, though this does tend to fade as the beer warms. The hops also get their final say in the long bitter finish which scours the palate pleasingly at the end. Not a bad beer, overall, though very much in the traditional, somewhat English, style of IPA. A bit of a hop boost would do the flavour no harm but maybe they're aiming at accessibility. I look forward to what Priory does next.

One of Dublin's other new breweries for 2017, Third Barrel, is beginning to hit its stride, with a re-release of one Stone Barrel first brewed in its gypsy days. It's an amber ale called Sundown: 4.5% ABV and pretty much down the line for the style. You get a weighty sweet toffee base and a quick burst of citrus spritz. That's about it, but then this style tends to be quite two-dimensional in this way. A hop boost would be of benefit, but it's perfectly fine in its own understated way.

A little further west brings us to Trouble Brewing who had two new ones, both of them similarly amber coloured.

Stagediver is formally badged as an amber ale, though bigger than Sundown at 5.6% ABV. And this delivered what I spoke about above, the smooth caramel malt present but very much in second place to a punchy hop bitterness which settles after a moment and integrates with the malt to form a pleasant red fruit profile, all sweet cherry and raspberry sauce. While I'd have no problem ordering a second Sundown after the first, I might leave this one and come back to it after a more cleansing alternative, if I were the sort of person to drink the same beer twice in one session.

The other was called Tasty McDole Collaboration and is described as a "west coast session IPA", though is a little on the strong side at 5.2% ABV. As I say, it's amber coloured, which is not something I'd associate with the US west coast. And nor is the savoury caraway flavour. The only citrus bitterness present is tiny and at the very end. It's very bland drinking otherwise, certainly not the sort of thing one would expect from a collaboration with a celebrity home brewer.

Galway Bay have managed to pop out two new beers recently and I found Croozer, a session IPA, at The Brew Dock. I've long been a fan of their "table beer", the 3.5% ABV Via Maris, and this had a lot to live up to, being just a bit stronger but considerably more expensive. It arrived an unattractive opaque yellow colour, and I was expecting gritty yeast bitterness, but no! The texture is beautifully creamy and there's a very modern combination of fresh tropical fruit -- pineapple in particular -- and savoury spring onion. There's a touch of oily herb too, and a lacing of coconut to add to the tropicality. It's very nicely done, and ranks with many of the hoppy and murky beers that the UK's most-hyped breweries are producing (it's no coincidence that a sister company of Galway Bay Brewery brings in Cloudwater and Northern Monk), but that €6-a-pint price tag for a beer at 3.9% ABV make it more a sipper than a sessioner.

Then over at The Black Sheep they had the new Galway Bay black IPA: Rando Calrissian. As is often the case with this style it's more dark brown than black. The hop fruit is worn at the front: an initial burst of raspberry sherbet, bitter and tangy. After that it takes a turn for the tarry, a rising roast drowning the hops and leaving it rather acrid. It offers the drinker a flash of spritzy fun but takes it away far too quickly. The finish is heavy, funky and serious. The frivolous name belies a far less than frivolous beer.

Staying in Connacht for one more, a swift taster of a new IPA from Carrig Brewing: Afternoon Delight. It's no great shakes, being another one of those beers that does savoury yeasty vegetal flavours where there should be proper hops. There's a harsh pithy bitterness but the flavour is sorely lacking. No delight whatsoever in this.

Heading south and the most recent beer from Eight Degrees is a collaboration with Californian brewery Drake's. It's called Spruce Juice, made with real spruce tips from trees close to the brewery. Stylewise it's another amber ale, and the glass I was served at The Porterhouse was a gorgeous clear mahogany red colour. It's a bit basic after that, the old amber ale problem, I guess. There's a mild hop bitterness, the Nugget in particular giving it a sharp greenness which I'm sure is accentuated by the spruce. There's slight sticky resin finish too, which may be related. In between it's mostly about the simple flat toffee sweetness. Like the Sundown above, it was fine but left me wanting more flavour, more character.

Last time I was at The Beerhouse there was a new addition to Black's of Kinsale's single hop series: El Dorado Oatmeal IPA. It's quite a dry beastie, and pleasantly so, tasting clean with a texture that's light and effervescent. The flavour is perhaps a little one-dimensional, being mostly a refreshing orangeade, though it's a good dimension. I got just a small waft of onion as my glass began to warm. It's an accessible 5% ABV and is definitely the sort of simple, well-made IPA one could slip into for an evening, much like the brewery's flagship, in fact.

Dungarvan's latest limited edition, their third this year, is Turning Tide, a wheat beer with lemon peel. I liked the idea of Hoegaarden with the slice of fruit built in, and that's what I was expecting. There was a lot of yeast in the bottle -- some fairly coagulated gobbets flopped into my glass towards the end, but I figured it was safe enough given the style. I think I was wrong. While there is a very nice zesty lemon aroma, the first flavour is a harsh, concentrated savouriness with a tang of burnt rubber off it. I found it very difficult to get past that. There is a fresh lemon flavour buried deep in it, but I only caught a flash of it in between the acrid opening and the long rough finish. I've little doubt that it's a good recipe but it has been let down by the technicals. My cack-handed pouring should not be enough to ruin the taste of a beer completely.

And a final bottle for dessert, bringing the tour back home to Leinster. Ultimate Revenge is new from Kelly's Mountain in Clane. It's a souped-up version of their ruby porter, the strength increased from 4.5% ABV to 7%. It is still ruby, however: a lustrous dark garnet colour topped by a head of dense foam the colour of old ivory. The flavour delivers a veritable basket of ripe summer fruits, with mushy strawberries to the fore, plus soft cherries and juicy plums. A more autumnal tartness follows next: blackcurrants and damsons. This bitterness keeps rising and is joined by a burnt roastiness, more coal and turf than coffee. It's an intense experience and I think the name was aptly chosen: I don't know where you would go from here. Once you get used to the busy flavours it becomes a smooth and satisfying pintful.

There's a full list of events on the Indie Beer Week website, and more independent Irish beer reviews from me in the next couple of posts.

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