24 November 2017

Yellow streak

My week of scattergun Irish beer reviews ends today with a bit of focus for once. YellowBelly has been firing out the new releases at high velocity so I'm giving them a post of their own. I'd like to say I chased these around the pubs of Dublin, but it's more that every time I went in for a beer, there was another one on tap.

Kellerbier arrived unannounced on the taps at Cassidy's. "Unfiltered helles" says the badge but there's precious little sign of it being unfiltered: it's almost completely clear, shining gold even in the gloom of this too-cool-for-proper-lighting pub. It's extremely soft, all bubblegum and the fluffy spun sugar that seems to be the fashion in donuts these days. It makes for a lovely texture and at 4.3% ABV it's eminently sinkable. By way of balance there's just a pinch of mild noble hop veg, but really you need to like your lager sweet to enjoy this fully.

At the Black Sheep I caught the tail end of a keg of Fruit to Thrill, a sour ale with assorted fruits. I wonder if this shares an ancestry with Commotion Lotion and Mindreader: it has a very similar blend of strawberry, raspberry and other summery fruit, light on alcohol at 4.3% ABV again, and this time tinted with a tang of sourness. Childhood memories of sugar-coated sour jelly sweets and raspberryade came immediately to mind on drinking it. It's definitely not a sophisticated beer, but it's a simple and refreshing one.

Within a few hours of my drinking that, it had been replaced by Snooze Button. This is billed by the brewery as a breakfast stout, containing oatmeal and lactose, though lighter than most others at just 5% ABV. I can't say I found it particularly breakfasty either. Rather it's a classically constructed dry Irish stout, with charcoal and bitter dark chocolate being the main features. The Black Sheep was serving it ice cold that evening, and I made sure to let it warm up, to see if anything else emerged. Not much did; maybe a fresher and sweeter coffee character, but that's your lot. This is another good, straightforward, unspectacular beer. Is a theme emerging?

Kind of a Big Deal, found at UnderDog, is the first to suggest otherwise. This is a saison, and quite a big one too at 6.7% ABV. At least some of that alcohol is down to the ageing it got in a wine barrel. The aroma is normal enough: peppery, like a saison should be and mercifully lacking in sweet esters. The wine really makes an impact on the flavour, bringing a gooseberry tartness and a certain tacky fresh oak sappiness. I got an edge of diesel as well, a flavour I associate with German white wines in particular, though it's a Burgundy which donated the wood in this case. The classic saison is still there underneath all this: clean and spicy. The barrel adds a really fun twist, complementing the saison flavour and adding to it. I'll bet it takes real skill to make something this complex seem so effortless.

And if that one felt like a re-directed Otterbank beer, this goes even more so for The Harvest King. The description really doesn't do this one justice, telling us merely that it's a sour saison brewed using Irish hops. Around here, local hops tend to be more of interest as a concept than as a flavour. I wasn't expecting much from it when I chanced across it at Against the Grain one quiet Tuesday evening. It's only 5% ABV and a hazy yellow colour. It doesn't really fit the saison flavour profile, nor is it simply another sour blonde ale. The aroma and foretaste are both pure Gewürztraminer: that juicy and sweet white grape flavour with just a naughty lacing of fusel alcohol. There's some lambic-like saltpetre spicing and a dry flinty finish, turning the Gewürztraminer into a Sauvignon Blanc. The luscious fruit makes it incredibly easy drinking but the complexity is such that I took ages over it, savouring every sip. A little goes a long way and you'll still find yourself wanting another. I couldn't help but think of US brewer Hill Farmstead, whose reputation as one of the world's greats is built on beers like this: La Vermontoise and Florence both have a similar act. As an ultra-seasonal beer this one won't be around long. Grab it if you see it.

Not a dud amongst these, I'm pleased to say, and a couple of the best Irish beers I've had all year. The brewery recently launched a beer club which will ship exclusive beers to subscribers throughout 2018. If the current form continues it will be well worth joining up.


  1. Professor Pie-Tin3:10 pm

    Came across the Stag Saor IPA lurking at the back of the fridge of one of my locals this week and was mightily impressed.
    That and the Cotton Ball's Indian Summer have been my favourite Irish beers of the year although admittedly the choice in my town is limited to not much more than this.
    Biggest disappointment of the year has been the deteriorating quality of Franciscan Well's Rebel Red.I'm not sure its increase in production has helped its cause very much.Shame as it used to be a lovely beer.

    1. I was never a big fan of Rebel Red, but sad to hear it's taken a turn for the worse.