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.