24 July 2017

Outstanding in their field

12 Acres arrived on the Irish beer scene a couple of years ago with very much a unique selling point: the beer was brewed using base malt solely from the brewer's own farm in Laois, malted separately and given back to them for brewing. Originally they had a pale ale contract brewed, and that's what I reviewed, impressed, here. Since then they have established their own brewery and expanded their range. The core now runs to three beers and I had been meaning to get hold of some when the brewery sent me a set, via the good offices of his holiness the Beer Messiah -- cheers Dean!

To begin, 12 Acres Single Malt Lager: 4.2% ABV, brewed in the Kölsch style and I guess bottle conditioned as a skein of yeast floated down through the dark gold glassful while I poured, though there's no warning of this on the bottle. The aroma is oddly fruity, but enticing: honeydew and cantaloupe. This intensifies on tasting, getting sweeter and quite estery, shading towards marker pen solvents. I begin to worry what kind of nightmare hangover a few of these might induce. But it's a brief worry. It's very easy to settle into drinking this. The hallmark crispness of Kölsch is missing, but it's still pretty clean and the soft fruit is almost an adequate substitute. Lager purists may quibble but it'll likely be grand for those who just want pale, drinkable and local. And there's nothing wrong with any of those things.

Bringing the ABV up to 5.5% ABV is 12 Acres Rye IPA, a warming deep orange colour, and hazy again, of course. The aroma is an invigorating mix of orange pith and grass, which is certainly what I'd expect to result from the formula of rye + IPA. The bitterness is the main feature of the flavour, puckering at the front and burning a little at the back. It's softened somewhat by the fruit candy hops and there's a certain herbal liquorice counterpoint too. Definitely assertive, and a good beer for it, but I think the hop flavour could do with being boosted to balance against the bitterness. That's something that Kinnegar's Rustbucket does well, and the reason it's such a popular option among Irish beer fans. This tastes like a more basic, less nuanced version of that. But it's certainly an IPA and definitely gets the most out of its rye. Low carbonation lends it a sense of English bitter, though particularly the bitter sort of bitter. It's maybe a bit fusty for the modern urban beer elite, but I'd say it has already curled a few toes down Laois way.

And since it's there, a re-run of 12 Acres Pale Ale, now brewed in-house. Curiously for a review bottle supplied by a brewery this was two months past the best before date on the label. It hasn't done it too much harm, however. There's still a very pleasant and clean mandarin flavour, though with a bit of a dry rasp on the finish and a tiny touch of yeast bite. The carbonation is in the Goldilocks zone, tickling the tastebuds and livening the experience without getting too gassy. There's a zing lacking, however, which I seem to remember in the prototype, though that may be just down to the freshness. Always read the label.

So that's where 12 Acres is starting with its own venture, and I wish them luck. They currently have a monopoly on brewing in Laois (Ballykilcavan launched last weekend but is brewing elsewhere for now) and I hope the trade down there can get behind the beers and the project as a whole. There are lessons to be learned from this kind of courageous localism.