16 October 2017

Visitors in the hall

As usual, September brought the Irish Craft Beer Festival to the RDS. The proliferation of beer festivals across the country means that this isn't the massive showcase it once was, but even with reduced brewery numbers the team put on a great show over the three days. Enough for me to dedicate this week's posts to it, and I only made it along to one day.

There were a few first-timers, including one brand new brewery launch, which I'll cover in my next entry. Lough Gill arrived in force for their RDS début, with a bunch of specials I'd been trying, and failing, to get my hands on elsewhere in Dublin. Wild Rosé is the second in their "Wild Atlantic" sour series, a wheat beer like the first but this time flavoured with grapes. Very Italian. It's 5.7% ABV and a light orange colour, offering a highly complex mix of light and summery peach fruit with a harder waxy bitterness. The sourness is fairly mild, but not missed with everything else that's going on.

The series continued with Barrel-Aged Flanders Red, a bit of a beast at 6.7% ABV, quite thick with balsamic resins and brimming with rich and ripe tamarind. Its weight means it loses out on the clean tartness I enjoy most about the style -- the chewiness doesn't sit well next to the sourness for me. All in, it's accessible, drinkable, and a decent effort, but I will stick with my Rodenbach thank you.

From sour to strong, Hoppy Scotch is a 9%-er which does exactly what the name suggests. It's brown and tastes of wholesome toffee, but also of fresh and green leafy hops. This makes an almighty riot of noise on the palate, the two sides crashing into each other like a medieval battle, but bizarrely it works and the drinker gets a big, filling, malt-driven beer that also delivers an IPA's worth of hops. Pure alchemy.

Upping the ante further, at least in alcohol terms, was Lough Gill's Imperial Coconut Porter at 10% ABV. There wasn't all that much going on in the flavour, however: caramel, a touch of red fruit. The strength is hidden well, though unfortunately so is the coconut. This one will please those in need of a high-octane easy-drinker, and we've all had days like that.

The usual daring line-up from Lough Gill, then, and a damned passable mead as well. Doubtless bigger things are on the way.

The other western newcomer was Bridewell, toting their second beer Bridewell Red. Though a little high on the alcohol side at 4.8% ABV, it's surprisingly light, with zesty redcurrants where you might expect caramel and strawberry. There's a fun marzipan sweetness as well. Obviously it's designed to be an easy and approachable beer, catering to the masses while Bridewell gradually expands its draught-only reach beyond the immediate locale, but it packs a tidy amount of flavour in there, all of it good.

A little closer to home, Costellos of Kilkenny was showing off its latest extensions to the range. White Rhino is an American-style IPA and very much in the classic mould. 6.5% ABV gives it some serious substance and it uses that to leverage plenty of serious hop action. The aroma is all naughty resinous dank while the flavour punches out wholesome green spinach with an uncompromising grapefruit bitterness on top. This is not a beer for lightness or juicy tropicality; more a joyous throwback to the days when you knew where you stood with an IPA.

Its companion rejoices in the too-clever-by-half name It's Spelt Dinkel. This is a light and pale top-fermented beer of 4.1% ABV, brewed with spelt, aka "dinkel wheat", geddit? Grain is the main feature of the flavour, to the point where it tasted a bit like a low-rent light lager to me. The middle is watery and full of dry corn husk, with only a tiny quiet bitterness in the finish to add character. I don't really get what the spelt adds to the picture and am inclined to chalk this one up as an experiment that doesn't need repeating. Something for the lager drinkers, though, I suppose.

It was great to see all three brewers making it to the festival and expanding their ranges. For the other newcomer it was all up front on day one, and I'll get to him tomorrow.

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