17 October 2017

As fresh as they get

The Irish Craft Beer Festival at the RDS in Dublin last month saw the début of a brand new Irish brewery, so new it didn't have a logo on the substantial stand. It's always good to see the product come before the branding, and product it had.

Larkin's Brewing Company is based in Rathcoole, Co. Wicklow, and on this showing seems to have gone for continental lager styles as its speciality: a refreshing change, literally and metaphorically. There was an IPA, however. You have to have an IPA. Larkin's American IPA is a biggie at 6.8% ABV, with a slick greasy body, oozing with lupulous oils from the Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic hops employed. The aroma is funky and dank, almost to the point of being cheesy. A much cleaner flavour follows, however: a crisp and chalky alkaline effect. It's unorthodox for an IPA but bodes well when turning to the lagers.

Larkin's German Lager is where I actually started, and was very impressed. No real complexity or tricks here; no twists or turns, and certainly no off-flavours. This is a straight down the middle quality pils: clear gold, with a beautiful peppery rocket-like noble hop flavour at the centre. Magnificently refreshing and moreish with a flavour which shows enough hop boldness to keep the drinker entertained all the way through. Just 4.7% ABV too so I'd have had another except...

... my head was turned by Larkin's Schwarzbier. It's an extremely rare style in Ireland, for no good reason at all. Of those that make it out of Irish breweries, very few have the dry roasted crispness that I love in classics like Köstritzer. Sadly, the Larkin's version I got is no exception to this rule, although it was the tail end of the keg. I got a murky brown sample, with a flavour leaning heavy on chocolate. The darker, drier elements were in there, but too well hidden. I will be trying this again if it gets a more general release, but for the moment it's a very cautious welcome from me.

Inevitably there was Larkin's Kölsch and this was another elegantly executed version of a classic style. The carbonation was suitably low, and there was a pleasant mineral bite in the flavour, balancing the mild malt sweetness and enhancing the drinkability. A few more hops might improve it, but it delivers on what the style is supposed to offer much better than most imitations, and better even than a couple of Cologne originals too.

I was far from the only punter wowed by the offerings. Oddly, however, the beer that most commentators seemed impressed by was Larkin's Czech Amber. Now, polotmavý has never been my favourite type of beer -- it dilutes the good features of both Czech pale and dark lagers -- and this one was bang on style in that regard. There was nothing at all wrong with it: it's clean, dry, and with a touch of mild celery passing as a hop character, but I couldn't really get much else from it; it just passed over my palate and away without making an impact. Ireland doesn't need amber lager the way it needs schwarzbier, but I'm not going to complain about a well-made one if other folk are happy with it.

Larkin's seems to be pushing ahead with more in this vein: a doppelbock is in progress. What happens beyond the festival circuit largely remains to be seen, but I pray there's a market around here for unfussy and well made beer of this nature.

More from the RDS tomorrow...