11 September 2017

Flame on

The Big Grill Festival turned four last month, returning to Herbert Park for four more days of barbecue-based entertainment. It was the best year yet for beer, with a second long bar added to the field, lots of new beers, and even one brand new brewer.

But my first port of call was to the standalone tent (hut? lodge?) of Franciscan Well, since they were nice enough to send me the tickets and a few beer vouchers. Their new offer was called Shoot the Breeze and it's a California Common. It's a pretty ugly looking one too: these are supposed to be clear, aren't they? This is a grim murky ochre. There's lots of crunchy roast immediately on tasting and then these strange sweet esters that seem very out of place: it's much too fruity for a style which should by dry and crisp. The hops are decent, bringing a grassy bite late in the flavour that helps reset the balance. The end result is an OK brown beer just misses being a good California Common.

Over to the main bars, then, and this was the first festival outing for Hopfully Brewing of north Dublin. They've launched with three core beers and one special, and some very distinctive artwork. I covered the fabulous beetroot saison here and it's joined in the line-up by a pale ale and an IPA. Lovemaker is the former, a quite dark and spicy number which incorporates rye with its Summit and Cascade hops. It's only 4.8% ABV though big-bodied and surprisingly dry. While it opens with quite a perfumed flavour, the finish is classically bitter. Overall a very grown-up no-nonsense sort of beer, high quality but with no fancy bells or whistles.

The IPA, Graciosa, is bright and pale and boasts a massive tropical aroma of mango and peach. The flavour is dank and dry, yet still fruit-forward, with a perfect clean finish. Citra and Chinook is the power couple that made this possible, and they put in one hell of a performance in a beer that's only 5.3% ABV. I think this one will turn a few heads, especially when the canned version starts getting out and about.

The initial limited-run beer in the Hopfully range is another California Common, but one with a distinct twist. Sakura is absolutely loaded with Sorachi Ace hops and uses that clean crispness I spoke of earlier to launch a massive hit of greasy coconut oils. It's a surprise attack too, because the aroma does not foreshadow it, nonchalantly wafting light coconut but no more. There's quite an intense bitterness too, making for an invigorating and stimulating experience. If you don't like Sorachi Ace, however, this is probably not going to be the beer to cure you of that affliction.

Hopfully's next appearance will be at the Brewtonic Beer Festival in the Bernard Shaw at the end of next week. Rascals will also be there, launching the second edition of their urban crowd-sourced hop beer. At Big Grill it was the turn of a fruited New England-style pale ale, Planet of the Apricots. It's an interesting phenomenon. The fruit seems to latch on to the dense and fluffy beer, intensifying its flavour as a result, meaning this thing really tasted of apricots. There's enough citrus bitterness to twist it towards tropical breakfast juice, which is also how it looks, and there's a memory of peach schnapps and orange from my misspent youth as well. But is it any good? Maybe it was the good weather but I kinda liked it. It doesn't fall into the usual fruit IPA trap of trying to copy the hop flavours: there's a proper contrast here. The end result is a fun, if silly, sunny delight.

Less fun was Park Life (not to be confused with the recent Trouble lager of the same name), a festival special from Brewtonic. This was badged as an American wheat ale and was just too harsh for me, all savoury caraway and a hard bitterness. Moving on...