22 November 2017

Unlucky dip

The final gleanings from the 2017 Killarney Beer Festival judging leftovers begin today's post: two beers, two breweries, both beers new to me.

Arrow is part of the core range at the Elbow Lane brew-restaurant in Cork. It's been around a few years but I've never had the chance to try it. Weissbier is the style, and it's in the dark orange end of that colour spectrum, without the proper haze. I guess the yeast sank to the bottom of the bottle giving me a semi-kristall. First marks off are for head retention: I expected a big dome of foam but what's there fades to nothing unacceptably fast. The aroma is pleasingly banana-ish with a light toffee complexity, as often found in the darker weissbiers. The flavour, however, introduces a nasty thin vinegar note that's definitely not meant to be there and which flaws it fatally. Each mouthful opens on sweet banana but then turns rapidly sour and slightly metallic. Perhaps worst of all is the way the body is rendered thin, combining with the poor carbonation to make for a very wonky weiss indeed. I didn't judge this at Killarney but I hope whoever did gave the brewery appropriate feedback if their bottle was like mine.

To follow, Tutti Frutti by Carrig, a beer I know nothing about, other than it's a fruited IPA at 4.7% ABV. Sometimes it's best to go in as blind as possible. I could have done with a warning about the bottle conditioning in this one: clumsy pouring left me with a murkier dark orange glassful than I expected, though the thick head did calm down respectably quickly. It smelled good: properly pithy and nicely fresh given that it had been sitting in the fridge for an entire summer. The flavour, however, really lost out to the accidental yeast. There's a massive gritty bite at the front, and only the faintest mix of citrus-skin spicing and pith behind. It's one of those tantalising efforts that probably has a decent recipe behind it but is let down by the way it's presented.

Is it rude of me to boggle slightly that these were both entered into a competition in this state? There's a definite lack of polish in both; a feeling that they've been lashed together and sent out into the world as "good enough". Whatever audience the brewers had in mind for them, it's not me.

Moving on, I  bought the following pair of bottles in Molloy's off licence on Francis Street and got a small handful of small change back from my tenner. These weren't cheap, but were they cheerful?

First is In The Pink, an hibiscus IPA in Dungarvan Brewing's limited edition series. It's a fun blood-red colour, pretty much clear when poured properly, and 5.8% ABV. It smells floral and fruity. Hibiscus gets used a lot in beers these days, and I think there's a cherry blossom sweetness that I've come to associate with it. This guy has that in spades. The flavour pits that fluffy pinkness against a hard, dry, waxy bitterness. Perhaps they're supposed to balance each other but this is all-out war. The acrid bitterness is just too full-on for me; too harsh and riding roughshod over everything else. I mentioned in relation to a previous Dungarvan special, Magic Road, that the bitterness was off the scale. That beer got away with it; with this one it's just unpleasant. Balance has left the building.

So I was quite apprehensive when turning to Bark & Bite, a double IPA brewed to commemorate the third birthday of Wicklow Wolf. It pours thickly, turning out a slight murky copper-coloured glassful. The aroma is quite vinous, with a bitter edge, like retsina. I guessed another harsh half hour was on the cards. But actually the hops are on the back foot here: the flavour is very much malt driven, a candycane sweetness that says barley wine to me, more than it says IPA. I had to do some research into what the taste reminded me of as it's something I hadn't tasted since the 1980s. I settled on aniseed balls: those spicy red spheres of candy sugar. It's the same sweetness and the same herbal spice. This is like no (fresh) IPA I've ever had. I can't imagine anyone who enjoys double IPAs of the sort, say, Whiplash has been turning out lately getting on board with this. A barley wine badge would have suited it better.