20 October 2017


I've been writing about the Irish Craft Beer Festival at the RDS all this week, but before we tumble headlong into the rest of September's festivals (four more countries to go, folks) I want to catch up on the assortment of Irish beers I drank at home and in the pubs during the summer.

On the very day I posted my last Irish beer round-up I picked up a can of The White Hag's Atlantean, their new IPA in the fashion of (consults atlas) ah, New England. It looks the part: an even sickly yellow and a thin skim of head. Lots of sweet pineapple in the aroma, verging on oversweet but promising enough to make me go in for a sip. It's surprisingly watery when it hits the palate; at 5.4% ABV it doesn't really have an excuse for the hollowness. Around the edge of the crater there's a quite bitter allium burn: simultaneous garlic and spring onion. As the harshness fades there's a tiny hint of peachy fruit but it doesn't stick around to play. My problem here is that this has all the hop features of a really good modern IPA but the malt simply is not there to carry it, which shouldn't be the case given the strength. The absence of a firm controlling hand makes the hops too hot and allows a nasty yeast twang to creep in too. I guess the Vermont yeast was supposed to provide the substance but for some reason it fell asleep on the job. Anyway, it's a surprise pass from me.

I had no idea what to make of the announcement that Black Donkey had released a smoked rye saison. Smoked. Rye. Saison. I  did know that I had to try it so trooped along to 57 The Headline at the first opportunity to get hold of this alluringly-titled Bog Fire. I got a murky mugful, a fairly bright orange-ochre colour. The aroma is sweet and smoky, which was a good start as I had been fearing something acrid and harsh. It's not, and not on tasting either. The malt sweetness starts it off, all marmalade with just a slight backing of grassy rye. Then the smoke layer comes on top, but still sweet, like crispy maple-smoked bacon. The saison element only really emerges as the beer warms, presenting as a juicy honeydew melon feature, further softening the smoke. It gets a little harsher in the finish as a dry astringency creeps in, but not enough to upset a very well-constructed beer, one which makes great use of its constituent parts.

Keeping the murky theme going, we turn next to Edelweiss, new from White Gypsy. This surprised me at first with how dark it looked, and then by how dark it tasted. There's a definite whack of caramel, or even toffee, in here -- enough to add a sense of dunkelweisse to the whole picture. There's also banana by the bucketful, in the form of those foam sweets rather than any real fruit. The saving grace is a decent kick of green noble hops adding a flavour of celery in particular, but you do have to go looking for that, so heavy are the malt and yeast components. Though a modest 5% ABV it's a very chewy offering, and that density only accentuates the sweetness. It wasn't to my taste and I'd prefer everything except the hops to be more tightly restrained.

Endless Summer, a collaboration between Donegal Brewing and its neighbour Bog Hopper, arrived at UnderDog, appropriately enough, in early September. This is a 4.5% ABV pale ale, a middle-of-the-road golden colour with just a very slight haze. The aroma is sweet, and a little sticky, reminding me of bright pink raspberry-flavoured ice cream sauce with a sprinkling of orange sherbet. The flavour is very different, however. From the first taste I got a harsh acridity, savoury like yeast, but with overtones of smoke as well. At the very end there's a brief flash of orange, but it's not enough to save the overall taste. The base beer behind the flavour is thin and fizzy, with a dry chalkiness, which accentuates the severity of it all. I couldn't say if it's an infection, a fining issue, or if it's merely over-bittered, but however you slice it it doesn't result in a happy beer drinking experience.

At the same strength, but done much better, is the new Brú Pale Ale, recently added to the core range of the Trim brewery. It's very pale, presenting like more like a watery lager than a pale ale, and topped with a thick layer of fine mousse. Nothing lagery about the flavour, however: combined Bravo, Calypso and Denali hops give it a serious hop kick, a sharp leafy bitterness, turning from al dente vegetables to oily lime juice after a minute. The body is light but has sufficient weight to carry the hops and offset any possible harshness, though you can forget about any malt contribution to the taste. It's a simple little chap, but very well made and a steal at four half-litre bottles for a tenner.

Staying in the Midlands, the very Midlands, Marooned is the first beer from Dead Centre Brewing and I picked up a can at DrinkStore. The cheering you can hear from the sidelines is because Dead Centre will be setting up in Westmeath, the only county in the Republic of Ireland currently without a brewery. For the moment they're brewing at St. Mel's in Longford, and props for informing the drinker of that clearly on the can. The packaging generally sends very specific signals: a 440ml can, with clean minimalist branding and an almost forensic description of what the beer is made from. But does it walk the walk?

Marooned describes itself as an oatmeal IPA and is 5.5% ABV. There was lots of foam as it poured but this subsided after a while, leaving a hazy orange body with a thin skim of foam. The aroma is superb: fresh tropical peach and pineapple, and a sharper garlic or spring onion element. Perle, Simcoe and Mosaic are the hops, and I'm guessing the Mosaic went in very late. My mouth was watering before the beer came near it. The oatmeal gives it a smooth texture and there's more to the grain side than that: a firm and slightly sweet bready malt character. Really, though, the hops are in charge. It loses its tropicality somewhat on tasting, but the spicy green scallions still walk tall through it, with a more traditional backing of jaffa orange. The finish is quite quick, but that just adds to the clean drinkability. There's a lot of Rye River's Francis' Big Bangin' IPA about this one, just at a more manageable strength. A great first move.

I chased YellowBelly Mortis up and down the country before I eventually caught it. The brewery released a very limited quantity in late August and I hoped I'd find it at their bar at the Great Irish Beer Festival. It wasn't there, but Danny directed me to the Abbot's Alehouse which was due to tap it up that evening. Unfortunately they didn't do so until after my train left. So when it landed at UnderDog a week later, I made sure I wasn't going to miss it.

It's a dark sour beer brewed with black cherries. It presents like a stout: pure black with an off-white foam on top, and it smells quite stouty too, with an aroma of  treacle in particular. The flavour is... singular. There's a very strange blend of coffee roast and chocolate sweetness with sweet cherries. Normally this is the bit where I'd say it tastes like Black Forest gateau, but it doesn't. It's only 3.8% ABV, with all the thinness that comes with, and while it's not sour per se, there is an attenuated tang running through it. Despite the oddness, it's quite a simple beer once you're in the middle of it: all the shocks are at the front. I rather enjoyed the way it takes normally disparate tastes and blends them together into a weird but fun cocktail. Three more dark sour beers are due to follow it. Consider me intrigued.

A double IPA head-to-head next: tall cans at 20 paces. Perfect Union was a late September release from Galway Bay, brewed in collaboration with NOLA of New Orleans. The can was a gift from head brewer Tom. It's 8% ABV and uses a Vermont ale yeast, so is unsurprisingly hazy, with some fairly substantial chewy lumps floating around in it. Allium is the main thing the hops bring: fried onion and oily raw garlic first, though a softer juiciness follows, accompanied by a candied malt sweetness. The carbonation is low leaving the texture quite dense and sticky. That garlic napalm creeps back in the finish. Bottom line: it's grand. Lots of happy hops while avoiding the worst excesses of strong IPAs. A bit more fruit and a bit less garlic would be nicer, of course.

And in the white corner, Let It Happen, the third in a series of hop specific double IPAs after Saturate with Mosaic and Drone Logic with Simcoe. Now it's Citra's turn. Woo! The ABV matches Perfect Union point for point, and while it's paler it's not a whole lot clearer. There's a cleaner, sharper bitterness, though there's still a definite waft of spring onion around the edges. No Vermont yeast so a lighter, and frankly more enjoyable, texture. It's remarkably easy drinking, the alcohol driving the hop flavours without adding any heat of its own. No fireworks again, but an elegant double IPA, all characteristics integrated into a single coherent piece. Let It Happen is more softly spoken than Perfect Union, and a better beer for it, I think.

A Whiplash victory lap, then, and a glass of Fantasm Planes. I missed this when it sold out at the Great Irish Beer Festival so was delighted to find it on tap at UnderDog some time later. The official description is that it's Kölsch-style, but that must just be the background technicals, because it doesn't offer anything a drinker would expect from a Kölsch. For one thing it's very hazy, and for another there's a very distinct New World hop flavour: huge peach and mango in the aroma and flavour, with just a spark of resinous dank at the end. The texture is smooth and creamy, though the murk doesn't interfere with the taste. This is a beautiful, easy-drinking, low-bitterness hop-forward pale ale and I loved every sip. At 5.5% ABV it would be exceedingly pintable if it were available as such: I had to make do with my 33cl serve and wanted more at the end.

Staying in UnderDog for a couple more, here's Azacca Saison, a new special from Black's of Kinsale. Hops and saison can be a winning combination but this one doesn't quite have the formula right. The flavour is mostly quite simple, with an old fashioned orangeade element at the centre, the impression helped by the light and thirst-quenching texture. That's enjoyable even if it's not very saison-like. The problem comes later, with a harsh and savoury yeast streak, mixing farmyard funk with seasoned meat, leaving the beer tasting dreggy and a lot less fun. It seems to be the rougher and more evil side of saison that has come through, and it left me wishing for something cleaner to show those hops off better.

That didn't stop me from picking Otterbank Brown Brett as my next beer. This 6% ABV barrel-aged brown ale makes great use of the Brettanomyces it was brewed with: there's a beautifully dry funk in the aroma, continued in the earthy foretaste where it unites with high-cocoa dark chocolate. It's a lovely balance of sweet and dry; candy and rot; a snap of wafer coated in warm gloopy caramel. I couldn't taste anything that the barrel may have added, but there's plenty going on without it.

Cashing in on the all-conquering Dublin football team, 5 Lamps released Up the Dubs in time for the All Ireland final last month. I caught up with it rather later at 57 The Headline. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it when I tried it, other than I found it far too sweet. Research revealed that it's a wheat beer with apricots, and that helped things fall into place, even if it didn't improve it any. There's a certain jammy quality, though nothing I would readily identify as an apricot flavour. The body is thick like a weissbier and there's an artificial metallic bitterness tacked on at the end. Overly-sweet weissbier is always a turn-off for me, and the addition of fruit to this one just makes it even more sickly.

Proprietor Geoff was kind enough to share a sample of King Kumquat that Rascals had dropped in. This kumquat-flavoured IPA was launched at the Brewtonic Beer Festival at the end of September, which I was sad to miss. It's a collaboration with new Dublin brewer Hopfully. This is a beer of two halves: the aroma is that of a serious US-style IPA, all leafy and resinous, and then the fruit explodes outwards in the flavour. It doesn't taste like orange, strangely enough, and I got more of a lime kick from it, as well as a greasy quality, like coconut. It's very tasty and beautifully clean: a beer that looks like a novelty on paper but has a wonderful integrated elegance in the way the taste is constructed.

At a family wedding at the Farnham Estate in Cavan it was a pleasant surprise to find beers from the local client brewer Hyland. We don't get these in Dublin even though they're brewed here, and I'd never tried the red. Celtic Red Branch is a pretty good example too, big on sweet summer fruit balanced by an assertive roasted dryness. It's full-bodied and filling, despite being just 4.5% ABV. I had been drinking Smithwick's beforehand, and a bottle of this was like suddenly switching into 3D.

Finally, a chance encounter with a new pils. Dublin's Persistence Brewing doesn't seem to get its beers into my usual haunts but I found P42 unexpectedly on tap at Jo'Burger in Smithfield. And very impressive it was too: it absolutely nails the Czech pale lager style, from the bags of damp grass in the aroma, to the flavour which piles more of that onto a sweet honeyish base. It's perfectly crisp and assertively bitter in a way not enough pilsners are, and works as both a sipper and a quaffer, depending on one's mood. There's even a rising note of diacetyl as it warms, which just serves to make it taste even more like Pilsner Urquell. My only other quibble was a slight plasticky twang on the end: the noble hops coming through just a smidge too loudly, but if that's the price of super Saaziness I'll take it.

Time to open another draft post to collect the next swathe of Irish randomers, but in the meantime, let's get back to the festival circuit.

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