25 August 2017

Real blackcurrants, fake strawberries, and two unexpected pineapples

Time for another random round-up of recent Irish beers, from the usual suspects of hyperactive new releasers, as well as a couple of surprise specials from the quieter ones.

O Brother bopped out another fruit beer as a follow-up to watermelon Walt a few months ago. The Smasher answers the apparent demand for grapefruit pale ales which seems to have almost every brewery making one. And while I stand by my conviction that fruit has no place in a hop-forward beer style, I did rather enjoy this one warm evening in 57 The Headline. More than grapefruit, it tastes like orangeade to begin with: a fizzy and sweet jaffa effect that does wonders to quench a thirst. There's a fairly plain, lightly bittered, pale ale underneath, and then a sharp burn of acidic grapefruit skin in the finish. The hops and fruit don't fight, for a change, though only because the beery element rolls over straightaway. For all that, it's a fun and enjoyable summery sup, if not exactly cerebral or complex.

Also kicking the fruit vibe is Wicklow Wolf Summersalt, a blackcurrant gose. I see what they did with the name there, but don't blackcurrants belong in autumn? (wait, no, that's blackberries. Thanks Simon!) At 5.1% ABV it's a heavy and sweet affair, tasting as jam-filled as the purple colour suggests. There's almost no sourness, and only a vague salinity, meaning it misses on the cleansing, refreshing side of the gose equation. I found it quite sickly, overall, too heavy on the Ribena for my liking.

YellowBelly released a set of classic-horror-themed beers, two of which I tracked down to UnderDog, although the pub's craft-clean styling and lack of tap badges means you don't get the benefit of the usual YellowBelly artwork.

Frankenweisse is 5% ABV, so on the weak side for a weissbier, and the oddness doesn't end there. It looks the part: a hazy yellow with a generous foam topping, but whatever they've hopped it with has produced a crazy combination of sweet apricot and vanilla. The only nod to the classic versions of the style is a pinch of clove; everything else is pure renegade. And it's highly enjoyable for all that: still soft textured, full-bodied and fruity as it should be, just heading off to a different region of flavour country.

The vampiric one of the set was Pale & Interesting, a pale ale which UnderDog was serving on cask. It's excellent too: just 4% ABV and brimming with the complexities that make good English bitter worthwhile. At the centre is juicy peach and apricot, laced around the edges with a floral perfume and finishing with a stern assertive bitterness. It's up to you to decide whether you want to sip and savour it or quaff it down and order another since cask pints are an extremely reasonable €5 in UnderDog.

It just gets pipped at the post where value is concerned by JW Sweetman New England IPA, coming in at €4.90 a throw when you have a JWS Guild Member card. This is may be a little underclocked at only 5.3% ABV but it doesn't suffer in any way from thinness or lack of flavour. On the contrary, behind the yellow murky front there's the classic smooth and creamy NEIPA texture, giving it a rich mouthfeel and superb sinkability. The bitterness is relatively high, the middle flavour full of pith and perfume, but that doesn't last and the finish is delightfully clean without a trace of yeast bite. This beer showed me that this silky style is really well suited to drinking in quantity. If you're sipping tiny tasters or sharing around cans you may be missing the point.

Last of the summer pale ales came from The Porterhouse, the veteran Dublin brewer going for a whole new angle with Grand Day. It's canned, for one thing, and for another there's a prestige combo of hops billed on the label, including Citra, Amarillo, Calypso, Belma and Bravo. Wot no Galena? Though only 4.2% ABV it's a beautiful flawless deep gold colour and smells of strawberries, which the blurb tells me is the Belma at work. Very summery anyway. That's still present on tasting, but there's a more serious lime bitterness backing it up, and also a sizeable dose of biscuit malt and a grainy dryness. While impressive to begin with, once it settles onto the palate it gets a little one-dimensional. Perhaps that's part of the design, however: it's a summer beer being sold at 4-for-€10 and meant for refreshment, not sipping. The little citric jolt it carries in its back pocket certainly helps achieve that.

From session to not-so-session and Yankee Doodle, a new special from Rascals. The story here is that the brewery didn't have enough Amarillo for a the regular run of their white IPA Yankee so used up their last 10 kilos on a double version. It's 7.5% ABV and looks just like Yankee: the same milky colour. The flavour is amazingly clean and well balanced with no sign of the extra strength. In fact, it's not strikingly different from regular Yankee, maybe laying on the orange pith a little more strongly -- that'll be the Amarillo -- but the herbal, floral side is much the same, which isn't a complaint. This is dangerously drinkable and maybe my not-so-session judgement was premature. Approach with caution.

It took me a bit of searching to track down the latest single hopper from Eight Degrees: Denali IPA, the sixth in the series and steadfastly sticking to the fixed ABV of 5.7%. I don't think I've ever had a beer using Denali, a new high-alpha American variety with lots of Nugget in its ancestry. Expecting big bitterness I was surprised by quite a sugary foretaste, syrupy yet tropical, like tinned pineapple. There's a very mild weedy dankness and then the sweetness returns as a kind of lavender floral quality which lingers long into the finish. Rather like its immediate predecessor, the Lemon Drop IPA, it's quite lacklustre, and really missing the big hop punch of the early beers in the series. I'm happy to see the sequence continuing, but I'd like to have the hop volume returned to the higher settings like before.

The Taphouse, meanwhile, has commissioned an exclusive house lager from Trouble Brewing and I nipped over one Saturday evening to give it a try. Situated in leafy Ranelagh, the Taphouse rips through quite a bit of Heineken, I'd say. Parklife is an attempt to give the collars-up brigade an alternative. Manager Adam says the spec was influenced by Weihenstephaner Helles, which is ambitious to say the least, especially given the low 4.2% ABV strength. It does a great job, however, coming out crisp and clean, wearing fresh spinach leaves up front and finishing with sweeter brioche, all on a bigger body than the ABV suggests, with a sessionably low level of carbonation. The price is pretty sessionable too at €5.40 a pint. I'm sceptical of its ability to displace the macro brands but I'm certainly glad that there's a decent quality good value lager available.

I visited Limerick for the first time last weekend, taking in the Treaty City brewery and many fine drinking establishments. There'll be more on what I found there in a future post. But I couldn't resist giving the new outreach beer from Guinness a go: Open Gate Citra IPA. Entirely as expected and in keeping with most of the IPAs they've brewed, this is a greasy beast, thickly textured and resinous. I'm sure that goes some way to explain why the hop flavour is lacking: there's no bite or bitterness, just a vague sense of orange oil at the beginning and no follow-through at all. It's inoffensive, I guess, but I can't see it pleasing the fans of the Citra hop.

Brand spanking new from Galway Bay is Baby Legs, a cryo-hopped IPA with Vermont yeast. I had thought, from my previous cryo experience with Black's Marching Powder, that cryo was a low-bitterness strategy, and Vermont yeast certainly usually is. But this guy goes big on bitter. From the pale and murky pint I got a seriously dank aroma, brimming with weedy resinous funk. The first sip underlines that with a heavy and oily herb flavour full of garlic, thyme and fennel. It's like a Sunday roast without the meat, two veg and gravy. The taste is set on a palate-stripping acidity that ignites the tastebuds in a gloriously fun way. This is how to do savoury hopping properly, with no mild caraway, just a big burning punch in the gob. Towards the end, after it had warmed a little, I thought I detected a smidge of pineapple juice lurking in the background, but if so it was slight and fleeting. Baby Legs is definitely one for the old school west coast IPA fans, in spite of the high-tech hops and on-trend yeast, and it's a better beer for that.

The next beer isn't a new one but it's important to me. I have been searching for Black Donkey's Arigna dark saison for ages but it always eluded me. Fortunately my puppy-dog eyes worked on brewer Richard at Big Grill last Friday and he kindly gave me a bottle of the 2016 vintage. It's rather good too. Lovely and smooth, with light banana esters, a sprinkle of white pepper, some juicy peach and a rich chocolate undercoat. All very jolly, so what's the ABV? Holy shit! 8.3%! This is a monster! In a very convincing disguise. There's a lot of good quality dunkelweisse in the taste, and the feel of one too. Where one might expect the hard alcohol there's just a leisurely herbal aniseed taste. It's a fascinating beer: a sideways twist on saison in several directions at once, but all integrated, with the flavours naturally complementing each other. I would