07 August 2017

The styles for summer

Saisons, lagers, wheat beers, and the inevitable IPAs: it's been a busy couple of months on the Irish beer scene, from festival to pub to beer launch. Here's what I've been drinking lately, in my attempt to keep up with it all.

There wasn't a huge amount of fuss about Marching Powder, perhaps surprisingly. This new IPA from Black's of Kinsale is the first in the country brewed with lupulin powder, the next stage in ingredient evolution, past whole hops and pellets. They've badged it as a "cryo IPA", and I guess we'll see if that catches on. The pint I got in 57 The Headline was a vibrant orange colour, and almost completely clear, which is noteworthy itself in these hazy days. The texture is pleasantly soft and fluffy, with no yeast interference in the flavour. Instead there's an odd mix of savoury and citrus, opening with spring onion before moving on to more tropical mango and mandarin. A slight perfume spice is the only real bitterness, and I kind miss the kick of proper hops, but I suppose that's not part of the programme when you go cryo. The onion quality grows as it goes, leaving the fruit very much in second place. I think I get what it's trying to be, and it's a good beer, but the novelty aspect of it doesn't do much for me.

I was even more underwhelmed by Bullet Proof IPA, though pleased to find this beer from Galway-based Limerick-brewing Soulwater on tap at The Headline: their beers rarely seem to come this far east. This is 5.7% ABV, presenting pale and hazy, and clocking up an eye-watering €8.50 a pint, pro rata. At that price I think it's reasonable to expect a clean beer, but it's not: a nasty yeast bite pervades it and all but covers any hop fruit character. The savouriness survives and I got a sizeable dose of onions right up front, alongside bathsalt minerals. From the residual orangey flavours I picked up an impression that there's a good IPA buried under here somewhere, but it's in need of a major cleaning up.

I had a lot more fun with the beer I followed it with: Old English IPA from Boyne Brewhouse's pilot brew series. This is a serious dark orange colour, with a serious ABV of 7.5%. None of your modern pine or mango flavours here, it opens instead on a heavy incense and cedarwood spicing. Citrus fruit does enter the picture later, mixed with dry and bitter herbs, creating a Camapri or Aperol sort of effect. And like those liqueurs it's wonderfully dry, with no booze or stickiness from the high gravity. This beer manages to be fun and interesting, while also offering very grown-up beer flavours. And depsite everything going on, it's all integrated masterfully into a single coherent whole. Well played, Boyne Brewhouse.

The first run of Indie Beer Week happened around the country in late June. I only made it to one event: the launch of Weisse Guys, a collaboration between Rascals and the client brewers they usually host, Brewtonic. It's a hopfenweisse, which is a style I don't often enjoy, much like its twin, white IPA. This one's pretty good, however. It's an extremely opaque yellow colour and with that comes a slick and creamy mouthfeel. The hops aren't overdone, having been all added in the whirlpool, and just imparting a gentle citrus. In defiance of the style's Bavarian roots there's added lemon peel, and this winds up being the dominant flavour, coupled with a mild peppery bite. 6% ABV means it's a big beast, but the texture is smooth enough and the flavour subtle enough to keep it refreshing and drinkable. I had it on draught at The Back Page where a couple of pints slipped back easily, and the can presentation will doubtless make it an outdoor favourite this summer.

Brewed under Brewtonic's own steam, but still at Rascals, is Nautical Boogie IPA which I caught up with on my first visit to MVP,  their outlet by the canal on Clanbrassil Street. It's a golden amber colour and smells rich and malty, not far off a red ale, with just a hint of hop spice. The hops are in control of the flavour, however, driving a blend of dry savoury onion powder and naughty resinous dankness. Fruit does not feature, making this an IPA for the grown-ups: a bittering punch up front, a long oily finish, and home to bed with no supper.  I liked it, though would prefer a slightly lower ABV than the 6% here. It tastes sessionable but it really isn't.

For the first time ever I got an actual press release about a new release from 5 Lamps, which was welcome: more breweries should do this. It's a classic pale bock, called Bang Bang, and once again 57 The Headline was where it showed up first. This pours a flawless clear gold and leads with green and spinachy noble hops. They're balanced perfectly with a weighty malt, showing all of the 5.7% ABV but not claggy or hot, as can sometimes happen in this style. I only had a half pint at the end of a long night's tasting, but it was a real breath of fresh air and I fully intend to come back for more.

The Headline's own brewing subsidiary Two Sides celebrated the summer, and the return of a certain TV series, by bringing out a pink grapefruit witbier called Little Finger. It's a middle-of-the-road 5% ABV and offers a simple flavour profile on a light body. There's the dry crunch of wheaty grain husk plus a spicy and herbal complexity. A vague breakfast-juice fruitiness comes from the grapefruit, but no real bitterness. This is a solidly-built, if unexciting, summer refresher, ideal for the tables outside The Headline and T.O. Brennan's where most of it will be served.

To UnderDog next, and that's where I encountered the new session IPA from YellowBelly The Imposter. I suspect this has been rushed out of the brewery too quickly because it's full-on murky and the yeast has a strong influence on the flavour and texture. It's slick and gloopy, with kind of a meringue feel. The flavour, meanwhile, is a dessertish mix of lemon and vanilla, making it taste more like ice cream than beer. An interesting effort, but not what I'm looking for in a session IPA.

On UnderDog's opening night, as well as the collection of Lervig beers I mentioned here, they were also pouring's YellowBelly's new saison Get the Table. As the name sort-of hints, this is low-strength: a mere 4.5% ABV. It possesses a lovely balance between the earthy, gritty Belgian farmhouse flavours and lighter, fruitier melon and peach notes. An odd, but not unpleasant, sour tang sparks off in the background, adding further complexity. Interestingly, it doesn't taste or feel any way weak, the body having a proper heft. Overall it's a nicely refreshing beer with plenty of classic saison character.

UnderDog was also the first pub to serve Silk Road, a new saison from Trouble Brewing. It's quite a big one at 5.8% ABV, and there's lots happening in the flavour. A sharp spice dominates proceedings, backed by ripe apple and soft apricot. A herbal aniseed element adds further to the complexity. It all makes for a very pleasant sipper with none of the heat or cloying esters that often come with stronger saisons. Very nicely put together, all told.

Completing the trilogy, Galway Bay, too, have a new saison on rotation in their bars: Subsolar. This one is only 5% ABV and gets a lot of its character from some very generous dry hopping. There's a beautifully summery mix of peach pith and melon rind making for superb refreshment. I thought that was going to fade after the first few sips but it keeps going all the way through, bright and fresh. The countermelody is a gritty bitterness from the yeast but one gets used to that. It's very different from both Silk Road and Get The Table, but just as enjoyable. Saison is the beer style that keeps on giving.

The Black Sheep played host to the first tapping of Eight Degrees Berliner Weisse, an especially light one at 3.1% ABV, though with a substantial €6.75 a pint price tag. Redcurrant and rhubarb are the beer's embellishments and they're responsible for the cheeky, cheery blushing pink colour. There's an invigorating up-front sour bite though I think this slightly drowns out or assimilates the rhubarb as I could detect very little of it in the flavour. The redcurrant is a different sort of tartness, more fruity, and it complements the harder acidity well. Unsurprisingly, the texture is extremely thin but I think that actually helps boost the refreshment power here, as does a carbonation which is sparkly without being fizzy. As hacked Berliner weisse goes, this is one of the less busy ones, letting the beer speak for itself.

Wicklow Wolf has optimistically titled its summer beer The Sun Machine though I opened it on a drizzly July evening. It's a 6% ABV wheat beer, brewed with Meyer lemon, a citrus fruit I last encountered in Deschutes's session IPA Hop Slice. The fruit is playing second fiddle to the malt here, however, and it's very grainy, with a dry and dusty porridge oats effect. The lemons offset this somewhat, but there's a definite twang of soap about it, and quite a lot of sickly sweetness. It took about half of the 33cl can for me to decide this one isn't for me, neither as a wheat beer nor as a fruit beer.

It's been a while since there's been a new one from Brehon, but here's Fiesta, behind a suitably garish label and representing the Monaghan brewery's first foray into 33cl bottles. It's a 4.7% ABV pale ale, a clear coppery amber colour. "Dry-hopped with Simcoe" they say on the label. I wouldn't have guessed it. There's a bit of jaffa and maybe grapefruit, but mostly it's a smoky phenolic taste that suggests an infection to me. I don't think this has turned out as the brewer intended. A squirt of spritzy citrus at the end hints at the beer it could be, but that middle is pure dirty.

Dublin's shiniest new brewery Hopfully hasn't fully emerged from its chrysalis yet, but I thought I'd include this bottle from its planned first run: Beetjuice beetroot saison. In with the headline root veg there's sage and lemon thyme, and though it's as purple as might be expected from a 4.2% ABV beetroot beer, the herb garden contributes most to the flavour: I get sweet ginger and cinnamon right up front. Behind it there's the pleasing earthy complexity of the beetroot, playing a solid bassline to the herbs' main riff. The saison element is a little lost in all this, but it's there if you look: a dry kick, and some mild pepper spice. The oily winter greenness of the sage is the last survivor of an otherwise very clean profile. Overall it's a beautifully constructed beer that's very different from anything else on the market. I hope it gets to meet the public properly soon.

And finally Finally, the first ever lager from Kinnegar. It's in the Dortmunder style but unfiltered, so presents as quite a murky orange colour. There was a lot of foam as it poured and I got a slightly disconcerting whiff of vinegar from it. That was only momentary, however: the full glass smells like proper central-European lager, all fresh grass and clean golden syrup. For all the bubbles it's surprisingly full-bodied, though maybe not quite as substantially bready as one would expect from a Dortmunder, or anything at 5.5% ABV. Though there's a touch of dry cracker in the finish, the hops are leading the flavour, floral and perfumey at first, given a complementary spark of spice from the yeast. The finish is a proper noble-hop wax bitterness, though not as long-lasting as I'd like. This performs well the task of being an accessible-yet-complex lager; perhaps missing a trick on the cleanness front because it's unfiltered, but it's still properly refreshing and very well-designed.

That's probably enough to be getting on with for this post. Even now the next tranche of new Irish beers is starting to pile up. If you haven't had JW Sweetman's New England IPA yet, go and do that. It'll be gone by the time I get around to reviewing it.

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