21 July 2017

Bog standard

Bog Hopper Brewery of Muff, Co. Donegal has been on the go for a couple of years now but the beers have landed only recently in Dublin and I picked up a set at DrinkStore.

To start, their pilsner Dirty Chick. I got a clean and clear glassful as I began to pour it but this was spoiled just at the end when the bottle-conditioning dregs fell in. It still looked good: a wholesomely hazy orange-gold with a handsome fluffy white head. The aroma is more that of a weissbier than a pils, sweet and fruity. It's quite sweet to taste as well, a fruit salad of banana and pear, plus a spicier smoky incense thing. All of which is the yeast at work, and the resulting esters make it thick and greasy. While quite pleasant to drink, it absolutely does not meet the crisp and hoppy spec of proper pilsner. If given it as homebrew I'd be advising the brewer that their brewing practices just aren't up to doing the style properly. I was immediately on guard for a rough and rustic set of beers.

Horny Ram did little to dissuade me of that when it began escaping the bottle as soon as the cap came off. This is a red ale at 4.4% ABV. It's clearer than the pilsner, a handsome strong-tea shade of red brown. It smells of caramel, as one would have every reason to expect of a red ale, and the flavour is all that too: a light burnt sugar sweetness, a trace of smoke, and finishing on a gentle roasted note. What it lacks is any distinguishing features. The better sort of red ale from Ireland's micros tend to put a bit of a twist on the style: extra hops, summer fruit, darker grains. This one doesn't bother with any of that and is quite bland as a result. Its decently full body means it's definitely a step up from any red ale offering from the industrial breweries but there's nothing to mark it out as exceptional or different. Still, providing an alternative for the local Smithwick's and Macardle's drinkers is probably a viable commercial strategy and a noble calling.

You need to try harder with a pale ale, however, and Hairy Bullocks is certainly a bit different. Like with the pilsner, the yeast makes a major contribution to the flavour, its nutmeg and clove combining with a gentle citrus bitterness to create a rather fun spiced cider sort of effect. The bitterness is low and the overall flavour quite dry. I've certainly never encountered an actual American pale ale that tasted like this and it's much more along the lines of an orangey English bitter. While interesting it's not very polished and I detected a slight wet cardboard burr at the very end. This is another one that calls to mind the more homebrewish side of craft brewing, with all the charms and flaws which come with that. Again, it would be fun to have this as your local beer, made by people you know, but at a time when Irish breweries are starting to make a name for themselves on the world stage it's not in the same league.

To finish, Cold Turkey, a collaboration Bog Hopper created with YellowBelly, down in the opposite corner of the country. No style is given on the bomber bottle but it's 6.9% ABV and a dark mahogany red. It smells rich and wholesome, of ripe strawberry and dark chocolate. Savoury yeast is right at the front of the flavour. It seems to be covering up the sweeter malt underneath: milky coffee and floral rosewater. There's the makings of a very nice porter in here but the rawness and the roughness spoils the whole party. Even moreso than Hairy Bullocks this tastes like the sort of bottle-conditioned English beer where the purity of the process is far more important than the purity of the flavour.

Fun, silly, but could benefit from cleaning up their act: as true for Bog Hopper's beers as it is for their branding.