19 October 2017

An American beer booth in Dublin

It was a very pleasant surprise to learn, in the run up to the 2017 Irish Craft Beer Festival, that the Brewers Association from the US would be taking a stall there. It seems to be a thing they do at festivals around Europe now, promoting their members' beers to the export market. For me, and probably most of the people who bellied up to the bar over the three days, it was an opportunity to try lots of American beers that we don't normally get over here.

The BA's London agent Lotte was pouring, and her first recommendation was Saison aux Baies Amères: Chokecherry from Left Hand. This is 6.8% ABV and a beautiful polished copper shade. It's raspingly dry at first, turning gradually sweeter as notes of honeydew and cantaloupe begin to emerge. There's a seam of summer berries running through it as well, as one might expect, but also a lot of boozy heat, the sort that turns me off high-strength saisons. Dropping the strength a few points would do it the world of good.

Utah's Epic Brewing garnered quite a bit of attention from the standers-by and no beer lit up so many faces as Elder Brett, their 9.4% ABV Bretted saison with elderflower. It's a bright pale yellow colour with a big funky aroma: loud and blousey from the word go. The flavour is sharp at first, with a hot and minerally diesel quality. This calms down after the initial hit, becoming more like a fruity Gewürztraminer or even light fino sherry. A green note of chard or bok choy helps offset the elder sweetness while the Brett funk plays solidly all the way through. It's tough going to drink; definitely a sipper; but absolutely worth it. Even a small taster goes a long way here.

So I expected big things from Hopulent, Epic's IPA. It wasn't my sort of thing, however. 8% ABV and all thickly toffeeish. It's a vernacular I keep thinking has died out in American brewing, and then being surprised to find it's still out there. This one is classically constructed and flawless, I guess, but not for me. Onwards.

New Belgium's Voodoo Ranger IPA is in a similar vein but I enjoyed it more. It's a percentage point lighter, for one thing, and has a bigger fresh hop aroma, even if it does smell more of garlic than citrus fruit. While still thick and heavy, the flavour profile is clean and the malt and hop elements are distinct. There's a old world herbal quality  -- swatches of thyme and mint -- that I found quite charming and which softens what I thought was going to be a much brasher beer. This still isn't the sort of IPA I would go for by choice, but it's well made for what it is.

The inevitable fruit IPA slot goes to Guava Islander by Coronado. Another 7%-er, more allium in the aroma, and more toffee in the flavour as well, which was especially surprising since it's a very pale beer. The brewer's blurb promises an experience "bursting with tropical goodness" but that's not what I found. There's a strange, but not unpleasant, peppery character, but not much else to separate it from the previous heavy malt-laden US IPAs.

Before turning to the dark side, the oddness of Ska Brewing's Pink Vapor Stew. Beetroot, carrot, apple and ginger with Belma and Citra hops on a massively sour base. As one might expect there's only room for some of that to actually come through to the drinker and I found it was the apple and ginger making the most noise. The sourness was almost at vinegar levels too, which turned something that could have been a fun mix of fruit and spices into a much more serious proposal that required careful sipping so as not to strip one's tooth enamel completely. I think I like the idea of the recipe more than I enjoyed the rather extreme beer which resulted.

To the porters and stouts then, and Pay It Forward, a porter with cocoa from West Sixth Brewing in Kentucky. This is an old fashioned dark brown colour with a tall layer of foam on top. There's a gorgeous smell of Fry's Turkish Delight from it, and this complentary combination of rosewater and dark chocolate continues into the flavour. A dry roasted finish helps keep it from becoming too sweet. The cocoa has been applied carefully and judiciously in this one, helping bring out the porter's essentially porteriness instead of trying to add a new dimension and spoiling it. I liked this a lot.

An imperial stout comes next: Wrecking Ball by No-Li Brewhouse up in Washington state. This is a very substantial 9.5% ABV and packs a whole lot of lovely complexity in there: thick ristretto coffee, bitter liquorice, spicy cigars and a sticky liqueur or fortified wine fruitiness. And yet despite this it's worrying light of texture and exceedingly easy to drink. It's just as well there was only a small sample available: that could have got messy.

I had never encountered beer from St. Louis's O'Fallon Brewery, but was interested in its Smoke Porter when it passed my way. There's too much smoke in it, however. It smells like smoky bacon crisps while it tastes of kippers. At the same time it's also very sweet -- too sweet -- and I ended up with an impression of smoked candyfloss. I don't mind very smoky beers and think subtlety is generally over-rated where they're concerned, but this was just way too full-on and far-out for me.

Lotte didn't want to let me try O'Fallon Pumpkin Beer. Sure nobody really likes pumpkin beer, do they? This one was pretty good, however, offering a range of lovely autumnal flavours like maple, brown sugar and sweet potato, as well as the inevitable cinnamon and nutmeg, but not too much of them. The sweetness here is better suited to the beer. Sneerers gonna sneer, but this did everything I want from a pumpkin beer and I feel not an ounce of shame about it.

Cheers to Lottle and the BA crew, and indeed to Bruce, Carly and all the brewers for yet another entertaining festival. I couldn't stay longer because Beavertown's Extravaganza in London was looming, and I'll get to that shortly.


  1. Was the Big Bad Baptist sold out?

  2. Since you didn't mention it, I presumed it was sold out. I lived 4 blocks from the brewery in SLC so got to try all their beers. BBB would be first on the list for me of the ones that were in the RDS.

  3. Was that the pumpkin beer you gave me as I arrived?

    @Shane - it made an appearance late in the day. I got the impression that it was being rationed to last the weekend.

    1. Indeed it was. Share the love, pay it forward, and all that.