25 December 2017

From under the tree

Merry Christmas! You should be at least three sheets by the time you get around to reading this. Perhaps you're just taking a breather in a cool and quiet corner somewhere while the holiday rages around you. If so: hello! Here are some of the beers that Ireland's breweries have served up to me in recent weeks.

Eight Degrees, to begin, released a pair of large bottles as their 2017 Christmas offering, though both have also been making appearances on draught. I caught up with them at Mitchelstown's Fanah Fest at the end of November, marking the brewery's move to its new home a few hundred metres from the old one, and the completion of its impressive new (second-hand) 60hL brewhouse.

Handed out on arrival was The Oak King, described rather anodynely as a "Belgian pale ale", this one came out at 6.5% ABV after being aged in French white wine barrels and inoculated with Brettanomyces C. It's a dark orange colour with a flavour which blends beautifully the juicy green grape and heady funk. Though very drinkable, it rewards slowing sipping, each one bringing tiny explosions of different flavours, including diesel, white pepper and peaches. Think Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, in beer form. It was particularly interesting how, even super-fresh at the brewery, the bottled version had already developed a greater complexity than the draught, seeming somehow brighter and more vibrant in its flavours. Still superb in either format, though.

Its twin (it's a mythology thing; read the label) is The Holly King, a big ol' imperial stout at 9.8% ABV, from Pinot Noir barrels with yet more Brett. Our funky microbial friend gets all her business done in the aroma, leaving a flavour that mixes chocolate sauce, heavy red wine and sappy wood, with just the merest hint of farmyard seasoning. Overall I found it a bit sweet, which is why I made sure to buy a bottle. I think the Brett just needs more time to chomp through the sugars and add more to the flavour, so I'm going to leave it a while and come back to it. Look out for a review on Stash Killer!... eventually.

Beer of the day at Fanah Fest was Warrior, one the brewery has chosen to badge as an Irish red but is way more interesting than that. Big, classic US hops open it out: Nugget and Cascade, says the official description. They blend with, and balance against, a sweet and fruity malt flavour, reminding me a lot of classic American amber ale, except with a long and hard bitterness, more like a red IPA. A fun pine-perfume spritz finishes it off. Mr Macardle's-Drinker will find a lot to contend with in this Irish red but I thought it was very well put-together.

An Eight Degrees footnote, which should really have been the prologue, is Enigma Single Hop IPA. I drank this before I published my last big round-up of Irish beers, but my incompetent secretary lost my notes on it. When they turned up, they spoke glowingly of the deliciously spiky red cabbage foretaste and the sweet and sticky middle, like an orange ice pop. The best of these Eight Degrees single-hoppers show a gorgeous tongue-pinching bitterness, and this one does too. While there's no arguing with the hop rate, that sticky fruit thing does get a little too cloying a little too quickly: I'd prefer lighter and drier, but overall a big thumbs up.

But back to the reds, and a new one from White Gypsy that also manages to make the most of the style. At