20 November 2017

Curate this!

I'm taking a break from the travel blogging for a week, to catch up with some of what I've been drinking from around Ireland this past while. It's a list that can get out of control too easily, given how hyperactive our breweries are these days.

We'll start in the pubs, and the joyous occasion of a new release from Hopfully at their tap takeover in 57 The Headline. Açai Porter is as described: a porter with added açai berries. The presentation wasn't the best: carbonation problems left it flat and headless, the lack of sparkle doing nothing to improve the muddy appearance. It's mostly dark brown with a fun purple tint from the fruit. Cappucino coffee opens the flavour and you get a slice of cherry pie tartness on the side, including the sweet pastry crust. A mild kirsch burn finishes it off. Despite the modest 5.2 % ABV this is a very dessertish or aperitif-appropriate beer, sweet and weighty. The flavour combination works very well but it really needs the carbonation sorted out before it goes any further.

Staying dark and moving over to UnderDog, Black's of Kinsale have a schwarzbier out. I love schwarzbier and have been consistently disappointed by Irish examples: they're often decent beers but they don't get the dry toastiness right. May the Schwarz Be With You, for such is its name, nails it. It's the proper dark cola brown, though comes with a head that looks almost creamy. I got a lightly floral aroma which put me on guard but the flavour goes straight for dry roast and bitter dark chocolate, yet gently and cleanly, taking full advantage of the lager spec. There is a little hint of lavender floating around the edges which means it's possibly somewhat too complex for the style, and I'd prefer a half-point or so knocked off the 5.3% ABV. I can't complain, however: this is what I've been hankering for and I hope to see more of it.

O Brother's new session IPA The Dreamcatcher was also on at UnderDog. It was the keg version though cask has also been in circulation. I've started to measure the sessionability of session IPAs by the price, and at €6.25 for 44cl this wasn't quite there. It's pretty good though: a pale hazy yellow colour with an aroma of pith and dank that should get any IPA fan's juices flowing. There's almost a New England sweetness to the foretaste: a layer of vanilla cream. Although the body is nicely thick, there is a little bit of a watery finish to the flavour, but by the time you get that far you're up to your neck in bright hop flavours: mandarin flesh and grapefruit pith, neatly balancing juice and bitterness. The inevitable comparison with Little Fawn says it falls short by overemphasising the bitterness. You can certainly see where the money has gone as regards hops, however.

Galway Bay's latest offering is an IPA of a similar appearance though a full-fat 7% ABV. Regular Legs is a sequel to the summer's Baby Legs. The two don't compare well. While the original went all out for dank and bitter hops, this one is more quietly spoken, with orange candy and a talcum perfume. It all finishes very quickly and is remarkably thin for such a strong beer. The guilty parties are Azacca and Calypso hops so it should be fruitier. I was underwhelmed. Bring back Baby.

Because everything has to be a Rick & Morty reference these days, Trouble Brewing's new IPA is called Get Schwifty. Cassidy's had even abandoned the official tap badge in favour of a still from the cartoon, and that did actually seem to be drumming up trade. It struck me as having a lot in common with the now-classic Ambush, but in more of a west coast than New England style. It has the same fresh garlic and grapefruit, laid on thick with a massive bitter punch at the front, though it's set on a cleaner, harder texture. After the initial shock comes a gentle peach and mango juiciness, before the bitterness returns with a grass and pine finish. This is an absolute powerhouse of hop flavour, offering the full 3D surround-sound experience, and all at a highly pintable 5.3% ABV. Nice.

Cassidy's' sister pub Blackbird launched three simultaneous new beers from Rascals a couple of weeks ago. I began with Milkshake Stout and this deserves an award for delivering exactly what it promises. It is extremely chocolatey, starting out as a Dairy Milk and moving steadily towards Galaxy bars, with a very slight Flake-ish dryness. I guess that some of the smooth and sweet effect is down to the vanilla, though it doesn't actually taste of it. There's coconut in the recipe as well but I couldn't detect that in the flavour either. Part of me was hankering after some proper stout bitterness, as found, for example, in The Porterhouse Chocolate Truffle Stout, but that would probably spoil the effect. This is unashamedly one-dimensional and offers what is described precisely.

To cleanse and contrast next, Rascals Flanders Red, a sour beer aged a full year in Sangiovese barrels. It's a big fellow at 6.4% ABV, with a big chewy body packed with balsamic resins. There's a genuine wine flavour as well: sweet and juicy balanced with dry tannins, and then a bitter rosemary and fennel herbal finish. The sourness is quite understated behind all this, overburdened by the texture I'm guessing. It certainly lacks the clean fizz of Rodenbach, though that's to be expected given the strength. I enjoyed it but I think it will really come into its own after it has been cellared for a while. Look out for bottles in the next few weeks.

Last of the set was Otherkin OK, a New England IPA with added vanilla and orange peel. There's almost no bitterness here and a major vanilla ice cream flavour. A vague dankness in the finish is about as active as the hops get, with maybe a slight savoury twang, but I had to reach for it. Ice cream is the default position. Fortunately it's not claggy or gummy, the way some of these can be, remaining clean and easy drinking throughout. I'd prefer a bit more of a hop buzz, however.

Hope celebrated the change of the seasons with its Winter Session IPA: the same 4.5% ABV as the summer one but this time using rye and turning a crystalline copper colour. It smells like a good IPA: fresh pine and citrus leapt out of my glass in Against the Grain. The malt really starts to throw its weight on tasting, however. There's a heavy oat biscuit sweetness, tempered by slightly sweaty green hops. That funkiness is something I've encountered before in red IPAs and it's not a good feature. The bitterness is much lower than I'd expect, especially given the rye. A pleasant kick of resins does finish it off, along with a mild woody cinnamon spicing, but overall this wasn't a beer for me.

A previous visit to the pub put me in touch with Gravity's Rainbow from Whiplash, their second collaboration with Galway Bay Brewery. It's a big double IPA, and you can read the eye-watering hop spec here. It's an absolutely classic expression of the style, packed with heavy, oily dankness, balanced by fresh and pithy grapefruit. That's probably useless as a description because there are a million DIPAs it could be applied to, but that's the kind of platonic ideal we're dealing with here. I liked it a lot, and hopped-up 9%-ers aren't normally my bag.

The next Whiplash beer arrived canned: Bone Machine: a 6.2% ABV IPA brewed with Ekuanot, Cascade and high-alpha tropic-heavy experimental hop BRU-1. It's a pale orange colour and mostly quite clear. I get slightly claggy orange-flavoured chew sweets from the aroma, and an odd sour sweaty funk. Not a good start. I blame the Cascade. The Cascade definitely plays a major part in the flavour: earthy and bitter. There's an attempt at balance with fruitier notes from the modern hops, and that lime and mandarin combo runs late into the finish, joined by a sterner pine bitterness which gets the mouth watering. Nevertheless I'm not sure this hop combination quite works: after several mouthfuls and doubtless several degrees temperature increase, the old-school dry bitterness starts to clash with the more fruity modern varieties while the big malt base eggs them on. It ends up a little sickly and stomach-curdling. I get modern US-style IPA and appreciate the older sort, but this is neither one nor the other, which is a brave experiment but not one for repeating.

I was thirsty when I opened the can of Lough Gill's Tart Peach Ale, only pausing long enough to let the head settle and take a snap before getting stuck in. And lo, it was good. Much more tart than peach, a dry and flinty sharpness is the main feature all the way through. The fruit is barely perceptible at first, coming through mostly in the finish, softly and sweetly, though I think I'd be hard pressed to guess it's peach. The beer does suffer a little from the thickness I found in the previous Sour Wheat Ale, which is what prompted me to check the ABV. That one was 5.7% ABV and this is a whopping 8%! It really does not taste it and is impressively clean and refreshing for such a powerhouse. I certainly got through the 440ml in jig time and felt the better for it. This is a smooth and tangy delight.

Scepticism back in place, I turned next to The Black Sow, a new coffee milk stout from The White Hag. Sceptical because it's nitrogenated, and the brewery's record of packaged nitrogenation has been less than stellar -- I'm looking at you, Snakes & Scholars. Can open and upended... and look at that! A creamy head, albeit a thin one which gradually faded as I drank. But still. The nitro doesn't disguise the aroma any: there's a massive bang of coffee from it, as well as a sprinkling of chocolate and booze. It's a little surprising to find it's only 5.4% ABV. The texture is understandably smooth, though with enough sparkle that it doesn't seem lifeless. The flavour, meanwhile, delivers exactly what it says on the tin: lots of sweet chocolate and milky coffee. There's even a cheeky kick of Tia Maria right on the end. It's not the most grown-up of stouts, lacking significant hop character, but it is fun to pour and drink.

Ahh, it feels good to get this lot written down. More to come tomorrow.

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