14 August 2017

How's it hanging?

Meat! That was the theme of the Meatopia event which set up at Open Gate in early July; meat and smoke -- I came home reeking of both. The event has been running for some years now, in New York and then London, and this was its first time in Dublin, invited by Diageo to take over the yard outside their experimental brewery and brewpub for two days.

The format involved six barbecue stalls, managed by people whose names may or may not be recognisable to those who move in foodie circles, each with a single signature dish and a matched sample of beer. Admission (Diageo's PR folk kindly comped mine) got you one of each pairing, plus a bonus pint from the bars: as well as the Open Gate's current selection, The Porterhouse, 5 Lamps, DOT and London's 40FT were also pouring.

We'll begin with the beer created especially for the event: Open Gate's own Meatopia Smoked Lager, a 6% ABV pale bock, created with the assistance of Melissa Cole, who also ably MC'd the beery-talky bit of the event. This is yet another classically-styled down-the-line lager from Open Gate. It shows absolutely the right balance between golden syrup sweetness and a green celery bite, set on a body that's chewy and substantial without being thick. The smoke is deliberately (sez Melissa) subtle: just a small phenolic burr at the back. I don't know that it contributed a great deal to the picture, but it does no harm either. I'm not the person to ask about the beer's suitability for pairing with barbecued meat, but I have no complaints in that department. The greasy lens through which the subsequent photos were taken is a testament to my not letting the beer get in the way of the grub.

And there was a new bonus Open Gate lager pouring inside: Helles Yeah. The 5.8% ABV gave me momentary pause: that's a bit more welly than helles is supposed to have. However, it seems that they've used this additional heft to ramp up the other elements too: it still has the smoothness and cleanness that make helles such a great beer. The grassy noble hops are fresh-tasting and even a little spicy, and then there's a crunch of dry grain as well. It does lack the quaffability of good helles -- one pint was plenty -- but here again I can't argue with the taste.

Finally from the house, Open Gate's West Coast IPA. Unlike lager, the brewery's record with IPA has been pretty poor. I blame the yeast: there's a tendency to use the Guinness strain, and the esters it produces just aren't compatible with clean-and-hoppy. So sticking the words "west coast" in there is just asking for trouble. And yet... It is only 5.2% ABV, which means points off for style accuracy, but it is properly pale and clear. And the opening sip delivered a bright and ringing hit of bitter grapefruit. That the first beer to spring to mind was the style-defining west-coaster Ballast Point Sculpin speaks in its favour; that I've never really liked Sculpin probably doesn't. There isn't much behind that initial blast of citrus. While the body is indeed heavy, it's not as greasy as the other Open Gate IPAs and I did begin to enjoy it once I got used to the bitterness. More importantly, perhaps, the brewery is starting to get the hang of IPA. I won't be as apprehensive about the next one.

40FT Brewery of Dalston had been guests at James's Gate before but this was the first time trying their beers for me. I started with Street Weiss, a densely opaque and luridly orange weissbier. It's nerve-janglingly sweet, tasting almost as much like a smoothie as it looks. The flavour shows more summer fruit -- strawberry and raspberry -- than standard weizen banana. By way of balance there's a harsh plasticky bitterness in the finish which is completely out of place for the profile, as well as being unpleasant in itself. Maybe they're trying to be creative with a staid old German style, but it really hasn't worked.

On my way out I nabbed a quickie pint of 40FT's Hoppy Pale Ale. On a different day, I'd have been quite happy with this. It's fairly inoffensive; 4.1% ABV with a flavour profile that leans more towards the savoury than the fruity, again with the sharp bitter kick in the finish. But after a couple of decent lagers and a super-citric IPA, it just felt like a regression, like this brewery didn't have their recipe game quite as together as the Open Gate did. Maybe there's an observation to be made about the relative merits of craft vs. macro brewing, I dunno. But on the day it was a second thumbs-down for 40FT from me.

Meatopia was a hugely fun event. When in non-ticking mode I got reacquainted with DOT's delicious summer saison and applauded the first time I've seen Porterhouse Wrassler's out at an event. The food was great and, unlike several other food festivals, you got a very solid feed from the admission tokens alone. The theatricality of the cooking and the serving added to the joyous caveman feel of the whole gig. And it was particularly good to see the space outside Open Gate, narrow as it is, made use of this way.

Cheers to the organisers and promoters, and congratulations on a job well done.

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