03 July 2017

Cross roads

Diageo's new collaborative tendency seems to have raised a few hackles on the Irish beer scene. But before the Creature Comforts joint venture at Open Gate came to light, there was one with Two Roads, a brewery in Connecticut, not far from Diageo's US headquarters. It was a two-ended operation, with two different dark saisons collaboratively brewed, one per continent, both incorporating local botanicals. There followed a highly surreal simultaneous launch at the two breweries, Skyped from a laptop onto the big screen at Open Gate, where I'd been invited along.

A Song of the Open Road is the perfectly serviceable title for the Irish-brewed beer. It's 5% ABV and used Irish gorse and mint in the brew. Both additions sound like they'd be perfectly at home in a clean and dry saison, maybe with a slight peppery bite from the yeast and a roast grain enhancement to the dryness. Yum. Unfortunately what was served wasn't the beer I had in my head. I hate when that happens. For a start the botanicals were AWOL, and for another it tasted nothing like a saison. I double-checked with Peter from Open Gate who confirmed that it was a French saison yeast they used, which offers no explanation as to why it tastes like a dunkelweizen. Not a bad dunkelweizen, mind: a proper thick foamy head, a lovely balance between the banana and the warm roastiness, some bonus summer fruit complexity and a well-rounded body. But a saison? Not so much. I wonder if they turned out something truer to style over in Connecticut.

Anyway, moving along to the regular new additions to the Open Gate line-up on the night, of which there were two. I had had a pre-release taster of Dark Double IPA a couple of weeks previously and was not a fan, finding it too harsh and funky. The flavour had coalesced quite nicely in the intervening fortnight, though it's still something of a beast. It's 8.5% ABV and a muddy red-brown colour. There's a massively heavy green dankness in the flavour with a resinous hop burn rendered extra-napalmish by a barely-there carbonation. "Balance" isn't really an appropriate word for this beer, so let's say the hop intensity is offset somewhat by an assertive dark grain element, adding a sweeter Turkish coffee effect. Subtle it ain't, but it's not unpleasant either. It's the sort of experimental beer that one hopes the brewers have learned from and can put the lessons to use designing more accessible recipes.

Finally a new addition to the series of sour fruit beers: Deep Purple. And, once again, "sour" needs a big comforting pair of inverted commas around it. This is sticky and cordial-like, tasting intensely of blackcurrant jam. Somebody suggested Ribena but it's a realer fruit flavour than that to me. It reminded me of the super-sweet Fruit des Bois grisette that St Feuillien makes, but while that gets its sticky business done at 3.5% ABV, this one goes for the full five. It's fun and silly and I merrily horked back a pint of it, but I'd like to see Open Gate taking the training wheels off when it comes to sour. Somebody around there must know a thing or two about lactic.

And no sooner have I that committed to the blog than the Meatopia festival rocks into the yard last weekend. More from James's Gate soon.