18 October 2017

The regulars

Continuing this week's posts on the Irish Craft Beer Festival 2017 at the RDS, we come to the usual suspects, the breweries that show up year after year but always bringing new, interesting and experimental beer to liven up the offer.

Perhaps it's a bit cheeky of me to include Urban Brewing among them, since it was technically the first outing for the Docklands brewpub. But it had set up right next to its parent Carlow Brewing so I'm going to treat them as the same stand. Urban Brewing Double IPA was the new offer there. Haziness is still very much the house style at Urban and this 7.4%-er is a deep fuzzy orange. The flavour is a bit fuzzy too, blending marmalade citrus and grassy herbal notes on a big and chewy gut-warming base. Though properly bitter, its flavours don't have the proper distinctness that comes with pouring clean. Like pretty much every Urban Brewing offer so far, more time in the tank would definitely improve it.

There's a more deliberate haze in the new release from Carlow itself: Stormburst. Having received some (unfair) ridicule for invoking New England in the branding of its clear 51st State IPA, the brewery has now decided to get a bit closer to the spec. Stormburst definitely looks the part: a milky orange colour, barely letting light through. And there's the semi-official second signature of NEIPA in a smack of garlic, oddly juxtapositioned against some juicy manadarin. It's maybe a little understated compared to the way breweries with more craft cred and much bigger price tags do this sort of thing, but if you like the style and don't want to shell out the big bucks, this one walks the walk.

Eight Degrees is usually an early port of call for me at the RDS and they had one new seasonal and a festival special one-off on the go. Monsoon is the latest in the wind-themed IPA series and the first with added fruit. Mango and lime are the guilty parties here, though it's only really the latter that adds anything to the flavour: a sharp bitterness up front fading to pithy dryness at the end. It's not all about the acid, with the malt carrying a lime jelly flavoured sweet quality as well. In addition to the absent mango, I couldn't find much sign of the hops either, but despite this I enjoyed the overall quenching spritziness. IPA isn't always about the hops these days it seems.

The brewery acquired a Grainfather homebrew kit recently and used it to kick off what became a Pinot Barrel-Aged Stout. It débuted at ABVFest at the beginning of the month and followed that up with an appearance here. I wasn't wowed by it. It's very sweet, for one thing, packed with chocolate and caramel. There's also a sawdust flavour that I've come to associate with barrel-aged beers where the wood and liquid haven't really melded properly. Offsetting that there's also a rich balsamic edge, which is fun, but the whole picture just didn't hang together properly, I thought. I think I'd have been happier with just a straight stout.

The Boyne Brewhouse specials machine is still chugging away happily. On the roster here was the first Boyne Brewhouse Session IPA, hitting the style markers by being 4% ABV, pale yellow and lightly lemony. It does fall into the thinness trap, however: more bulking out would improve it.

On a less orthodox note there was Cascara Kölsch, which just sounded wrong from the start. Despite this, it once again meets the main style requirement extremely well: it's crisp, it's yellow, and the flavour balances dry grain with a gentle fruitiness. All very classic and refreshing. The coffee element is barely perceptible and I doubt I'd have noticed it if I hadn't been warned in advance. I still think it's probably best not to call something Kölsch if it's been hacked about with. Not hacking about with Kölsch is a fundamental aspect of the style.

Down to the breweries I only annoyed for one beer now. It was good to see N17 back in the hall, going for a 100% cask offer, and with a new beer too: Nut Brown Ale. The best part of this was the aroma, a beautifully rich warm chocolate effect, almost fattening -- a sensation that may have something to do with the robust 5.6% ABV. The flavour is somewhat plainer but still offers a tasty mix of milky coffee and succulent raisins. Above all it's smooth easy drinking, as a brown ale should be. Very nicely done and I hope to get the chance to drink a whole pint of it at some stage.

I didn't take the time to get the full story behind Killarney Brewing's Lemoncen, only that it's an IPA at 5% ABV and dry hopped. I liked it though; there's a classic blend of juicy mandarin, bitter citrus and a kind of minty herbal quality that intensifies to the point of real dankness at the end. No half measures here.

Trouble Brewing was touting its collaboration beer with Stillwater Artisanal, Killwater. It's a sour ale with hibiscus, so a cheery pink colour and with a pleasant tart aroma. It tastes sharp at first, but turns a bit claggy after that, heavy with syrup. An intense lemon pith bitterness helps cut through this, but it's still not easy drinking, at once pointy and severe while also overly sweet. I was after something mellower and this definitely wasn't it.

My last beer on my way out was The Rainmaker, a new US-style IPA at a full-on 7% ABV and utilising Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy hops. It's a pale and hazy yellow with a flavour -- even after a full evening on the beer -- that's clean and smooth. It does lean a little on the garlic and onion side of the hop profile, but I can forgive it as it's not overly bitter nor any way hot with alcohol. Good stuff.

But that's not the end of my account of the festival. There was one other bar I spent some time at, and it's getting a post of its own next.

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