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 5.6% ABV Big Fat Red is a strong-ish example which I found on tap at UnderDog, the pale pink shade of freshly polished copper. Flavourwise it is exactly as advertised: masses of sweet ripe strawberry on a heavy chewy body. A bitter metallic finish prevents it getting sticky or cloying. It's very much still an Irish red, and does everything the good ones do, just more of it.

Perhaps more a late-autumn seasonal, but still around, is the latest iteration of Wicklow Wolf's annual Locavore series. They've put their home-grown hops into a saison this year: 5.7% ABV and a hazy pale amber colour. There's bags of banana, front and centre, in the flavour. Thankfully the rest of the beer is dry and crisp enough to carry it, and there's even a lip-smacking layer of farmhouse funk, a spicy gunpowder bite, as well as an honest-to-goodness bitter kick from the Irish hops. Although it's heavier than I tend to like saison to be, it's a damn good example and very much not just a hop gimmick.

A quick visit to Bar Rua last month turned up a new one from owner Carrig: Oceania Hop Parade. It writes a big cheque with that name but unfortunately the beer cannot cash it. I got next to no flavour from the first couple of sips, though a light lemon curd and vanilla ice cream sensation emerged shortly afterwards. Riding roughshod over this is a massive dirty dreggy yeast flavour. It could well be that the beer is deliberately murky in line with modern IPA fashion but it definitely does not have a sufficient hopping rate to cover this.

Just around the corner, in Stephen Street News, I picked up the newly-released Voodoo Logic, a 10.1% ABV maple syrup imperial stout and the first of Trouble's new canned series to not appear on draft first. I think it may be the first of their beers I've only had at home. From the beginning of the pour it's clear it's a beast: the head is very dark and has multiple layers of cascading bubbles. I was anticipating density. Sure enough, it's like drinking jam. The finishing gravity must have been off the scale. The alcohol heat hits first, followed by a dry and tarry roast. There's a sweet fruit element behind this: damson jam, quince jelly and Nutella. A dry smoky rasp finishes it. It's nice, but to be honest, for the strength and almost €7 a can, I expected more happening. While unarguably good, it's not quite in the international league, in the way Trouble's recent IPAs have been.

Meanwhile, on draught, Trouble had another new stout, Peanut Butter Jelly Time, brewed as a collaboration with Storm Crow brewing just before Jason left Ireland for Atlanta. It's a modest 5.4% ABV with an unexpected but tasty spicy foretaste, like chilli flakes. For something that's technically a pastry stout it's not very sweet, with only mild hints of raspberry jam and peanut butter, then finishing with a properly grown-up dryness. If novelty flavoured stouts bother you, it's perfectly possible to ignore that aspect of this one, though the pastry features are present to be enjoyed also.

A new can from Boyne Brewhouse surprised me in the local Tesco. 6 for €10? Yoink! Boyne Brewhouse American Pale Ale is an innocent 4.5% ABV and a mildly murky off-gold colour. The aroma is pleasingly peachy though unfortunately the bit of the can which should be telling me about the hops is full of bollocks about some mythical Celtic fairy overlord. Lads. Anyway, I'm guessing Mosaic plays a part, right on the cusp between juicy melon and dry sesame seeds. The bitterness is quite sharp, in an old fashioned APA sort of way, though the hop flavour is thoroughly modern otherwise. A lovely soft texture and gentle fizz makes for very easy session drinking. It's not exciting, but very decent, especially for the price.

Along similar lines was Spot On, a 4.8% ABV pale ale from Dublin client brewer Two Sides, which showed up on tap at 57 The Headline. This has a mix of flowers and herbs that reminded me of an old-school English bitter. It's certainly bitter enough, and with a soft effervescent texture. While easy drinking, the flavour is sufficiently assertive to be properly interesting.

It's always great to see a new Irish pilsner and I was all over Galway Bay's Nuzoz Pilz when it appeared at The Black Sheep. As the name sort-of implies, it's made with Antipodean hops, and I think that's also its undoing. Clearly a lot of hops went into this, and the resulting flavour is a riot of fruits: apricot and mandarin, mostly, with a hint of drier hay. The soft and sweet fruit builds as it goes, producing a sticky cordial effect that tars over the clean lager base. The final picture is much more a Down-Under pale ale, which has its place and is perfectly acceptable drinking, but it completely misses the mark as a pils, which is disappointing.

I had a much happier time with Tartín, the latest dry-hopped sour beer from Galway Bay. It doesn't go to town with either the hopping or the sourness, balancing both elements deftly in an approachable 4.5% ABV package. It's pale yellow in colour with a certain briny quality, like you might find in a gose. The texture is beautifully soft, and a clean lemon-sherbet tang hits the palate first, finishing on sweeter tinned fruit. This is very easy-drinking refreshment, and reminded me of the wonderful 303 sour pale ale that made summer 2016 for me. I hope this one will be around longer.

I couldn't finish one of these random round-ups without some YellowBelly, so here's Hopped in Space, a 5.9% ABV IPA, employing Mandarina Bavaria, Simcoe and Summit. It goes quite heavy on the malt too, Cara Red giving it a darkish tint, and the first impression being sweetness. A whack of grapefruit lands next, then piney resin, but the hops are never allowed to dominate, held in balance by all that malt, avoiding becoming harsh. I liked it, finding it balanced and even more like a classic American amber ale than Warrior reviewed above. It's boldly flavoured yet accessible, which I'm guessing is why they've done a done a full scale can release. Get it while it's fresh, though.

And there's more from YellowBelly in tomorrow's post, when I look at some recent dark and wintry specials.


  1. Professor Pie-Tin9:50 am

    Merry Christmas to you too.Have been drinking a lot of the White Gypsy Yule Ol winter ale.Gorgeous drop that pours dark with a creamy head.Not in-your-face Christmassy either.

  2. Not a lot, but I did enjoy one recently. It's good to have a Christmas beer that isn't loaded with cinnamon and whatnot.