18 September 2017

Getting Lough'd

I had somewhat lost track of Lough Gill Brewery since the beginning of the year, having last tried a new beer from them just before the Alltech festival in February. So when I made enquiries in DrinkStore I ended up coming away with three cans from the Sligo brewery I'd never tasted before.

First to get opened was the Sour Wheat Ale. I was hoping for something light and refreshing, but the 5.7% ABV suggested otherwise, as did the dark and murky appearance. I had plenty of time to contemplate that as I waited for the foam to subside sufficiently to allow me a sip. It's as heavy as I expected, with a slick and briney salinity. There's a touch of lemon behind this which, combined with a grainy crunch, calls witbier to mind. Overall I'm not keen on it. The sourness is too strongly lactic, more like something gone off than deliberately inoculated, and the grain tastes stale and husky, possibly as a result. It's doesn't compare well with the cleaner and lighter Irish sour beers out there.

Time for a complete contrast: 'Round the Clock is a coffee and oatmeal stout, a path that has been trod by many breweries previously. It's 5.2% ABV and a rich chocolate brown colour. They've gone all-out for the coffee here, and there's a lot of dark roasted, even gritty, espresso in the flavour and aroma. The harsh bitterness isn't helped by the thin texture and if that's all there was I'd be giving it up as a bad job. But! This beer does have a redeeming feature in a floral complexity that runs backwards and forwards through it. It's a meadowy sweetness that doesn't quite take the edge off the sharp roast but does manage to distract my attention from its worst excesses. It's still some fairly tough drinking, lacking smoothness. You'd really want to be into your coffee, or at least your beer that tastes of coffee, to enjoy it fully.

Finally for now, Lough Gill's Irish Sloe Barley Wine, the first in a series of strong beers, and at 9.5% ABV it definitely qualifies. I was struck by the colour of this: after two cans of murk it's a gorgeous crystalline garnet. On sticking the nose in I'm met with typical barley wine characteristics: heavy slabs of alcoholic toffee, but there's a cheeky sour twang suggesting the sloes are mixing right in the middle. And so it proves on tasting: there's a chocolatey syrupy sweet thickness that would be cloying if left to its own devices, and where a classic US barley wine (hi Bigfoot!) would lash in a load of big citric hops, this utilises the fruit to give it a tangy edge that cleans up the malty excesses and renders it drinkable, while also giving it a uniquely complex flavour. It's almost plummy, like you might find in a Belgian dubbel, but lighter, spritzier, and altogether cleaner -- think cranberries. For a high-gravity palate-thumper this has been carefully and subtly put together. It's not often you encounter an Irish beer that isn't just slavish copying the way they do things abroad but this expresses a terroir all its own.

So, one super-impressive beer out of three. Not bad. There'll be more from Lough Gill in my round-up of the Irish Craft Beer Festival in a few weeks.