28 December 2017

Dash away all

I didn't really set out to do a full week of Irish beer reviews, but it looks to be turning out that way. Strap in. I'm trying to clear my backlog of 2017 releases ahead of my final decisions for this year's Golden Pints Awards, published here tomorrow. Today's post concerns the beers I found on the last dash around Dublin, getting Christmas sorted before I left the country for the holiday.

To begin, a not-so-seasonal raspberry blonde ale. Fruitopia Rising is from Kelly's Mountain brewery, created in collaboration with the Hellfire Brew Club, a group who proved themselves champions of fruit beer in Ireland with their kiwi and lime pale ale at Sullivan's earlier in the year. It crackled out of the glass, not gushing per se, but creating an inconvenient quantity of stiff white foam over the hazy orange-pink body. The aroma is superbly real: fresh and ripe raspberries, all of the juice with none of the tartness. It unravels rather on tasting. The raspberry is present, but I got a major smoky twang, suggesting an infection. That would also explain the fizz. It's a shame because it's obvious that there's a well-designed recipe behind this: using a simple 4.8% ABV blonde as a launchpad for luscious fruit. That flashes on the palate briefly before the acrid ashen off-flavour takes over. Maybe I just got unlucky with the bottle that Hellfire Will gave me; it would still be worth taking a chance on if you see it.

And on the theme of what-you-could-have-won, Will also gave me a bottle of a raspberry saison, a prototype of the recipe that they decided not to scale up. I can see why they went with the blonde. The drier saison sucks more of the juice out of the raspberries while the additional hot esters add a conflicting flavour. It's still pretty good, and I wouldn't swerve off raspberry saisons based on it, but blonde ale was the right choice.

Also being brave with fruit this winter was James Brown Brews, launching an Orange & Juniper IPA, in collaboration with host brewery Reel Deel. This is a whopping 6.5% ABV, though quite insubstantial for all that: thin of body with little malt character. Orange is what the flavour is all about, starting on a note of candied orange peel before turning bitterer with a kind of rock shandy effect, though dosed with aspirin. It's clean and refreshing for sure, but ultimately not terribly interesting, lacking any IPA features for one thing, and juniper for another. It could do with beefing up on all fronts, except maybe the strength.

Back to the raspberries, then, and a Raspberry Hibiscus Saison launched in a very limited edition by Rascals, with most of the batch destined for wine barrel ageing. This one is sweet and jammy, with the hibiscus adding a cherry note to the already-strong raspberry. There's a slightly dry and funky farmyard base but it doesn't play a major part, at least not yet. The addition of Brettanomyces and some Sangiovese oak exposure is bound to make it seriously interesting.

This was at UnderDog, where I also got the scrapings of the mini oak cask of Bourbon Milkshake Stout that was set up on the bar, which is what's in the other glass there. This still has all the sweet milk chocolate flavour of the original (reviewed last month here) but there's loads of sour and woody bourbon too. It's interesting, but I don't know if it's necessarily better. A more mature canned version will be out in January.

For more immediate maturity, presenting Harmonic Convergence, new out from Galway Bay (in association with Boundary) but having spent the last year in bourbon barrels. It's a barley wine and was an acceptable, if unattractive, murky brown-red when I met it on draught at The Black Sheep. Even ice cold I got a proper gobful of the rich oaky Rioja effect the barrel has given it. It tastes every point of its 12% ABV yet is so supremely smooth there's no boozy harshness. When it warmed up enough for an aroma to form it smelled like a bourbon and Coke: that mix of sugar, herbs and real whisky. The flavour, meanwhile, developed subtle liquorice, raisin and old wood in dark cellars. I'm sor