13 November 2018

Dragon energy

Maybe I'm just not paying sufficient attention, but the beers from Cardiff's Tiny Rebel brewery seem to no more than trickle in to Ireland, showing up in random places without consistency or logic. Today's beer is Dutty, a session New England IPA I found in Redmond's but haven't seen anywhere else.

Though only a piddling 4.2% ABV it packs a lot of positive NEIPA attributes in there. It's a dense-looking opaque orange colour, but there's no yeasty grit in the flavour. The aroma is citric, and the flavour carries enough of that bitterness to make it satisfyingly balanced. The main act, however, is the juiciness: a beautifully quenching mix of mango, mandarin and guava. A remarkably full body really accentuates the fruit, though the sweetness doesn't last long, being finished off by the aforementioned bittering and a smack of herbal resins.

It's a lovely drinking beer for summer (remember that?), and absolutely begs to be followed with another. The little 33cl cans, while I'm sure helping with keeping it cold, don't do it full justice when you only have one to hand. This beer deserves pints.

12 November 2018


I knew I'd heard of the brewery, but couldn't think where. That's what got me to buy these four, quite spendy, cans of beer from Melvin Brewing in Wyoming. When I got home and looked it up... Oh. Not cool, Melvin. Well, I've got the beers now anyway. Let's see how they shake out.

The weakest of the set is Hubert, a pale ale at 6% ABV. It's a slightly hazy dark golden colour and smells classically American, mixing toffee with grapefruit. The flavour is softer and more integrated: ripe peach and apricot, still sweet but not sugary. There's a pinch of green lime bitterness in the finish, though otherwise it's a very mellow affair with a nicely chewy texture, yet not too heavy. It's a calm and chilled-out sort of strong hoppy beer, one that I could happily relax into a few of.

Melvin IPA is the least-imaginatively named one of the set. It's 7.5% ABV and a deeper orange hue than the pale ale. This is quite effective in unweaving all that was good about Hubert. There's a similar classically American citrus flavour profile but it's heavy, sticky and boozy. I get lots of marmalade in the centre of the flavour, the whisky sort, by the spoonful. There's a pleasant peppery spicing in the finish but it doesn't do enough to balance it. By the end of the glass I was apprehensive about the stronger ones to come.

Drunken Master IPA pushes us to 9% ABV. The colour is heading towards amber now, although this one doesn't smell any stronger. It's more subtle all round, in fact. The carbonation is almost non-existent, giving it a wine-ish feel, while the flavour drops all of the weighty fruit of the previous two and goes instead for a clean bitterness, tasting of marjoram, rosemary and similar oily green herbs. It's a little on the dull side, laid-back to the point of falling over, and definitely doesn't present to the senses as much as the previous two. It's fine, though. The smoothness makes it a very uncomplicated way to get 9% ABV into your bloodstream with the minimum of fuss. Part of me feels this type of beer shouldn't be so bland, but another part is very glad it's not a sticky mess.

The sequence finishes with 2x4, pushing the strength to the two-digit limit of 9.9% ABV. This is another fairly plain one. Yes the alcohol is apparent, all slick and spirituous without being actually hot, while the hops bring a modest juicy citrus to the party. I miss the herbal complexity that the other one showed: this one is just hot orange cordial. Again, it's not offensive. The malt is kept on a tight leash and doesn't spread unwelcome sugar over the palate. But for the price I'd like something a little more interesting.

It turns out that the basic pale ale is the best of the bunch where Melvin is concerned. There are no missteps with the way the beers are designed, but the increase in alcohol comes with a decrease of fun, which is not how it should be. Keep it light, Melvin. Stay in the friendzone.

09 November 2018

Running to catch up

The Irish beer backlog has filled up so needs to be emptied now. Open wide...

I've only just caught up with Boyne Brewhouse's summer special, Jigs & Reels, created as a tie-in with the Fleadh Cheoil in Drogheda this year. It's a session IPA, just 4% ABV and a sickly looking hazy pale yellow. The billed hops are Mosaic, Cascade, Chinook and Centennial, and they've got full value out of the bitterness: the waxy, earthy buzz of Cascade stands out in particular for me. From a sharp lemon rind opener, the bittering fades and more subtle citrus notes emerge after; even a mild tropicality. This softens further to a floral perfume which is where I would like it to finish but it turns a little soapy right on the very end. A lasting impression of lime shred marmalade forms the aftertaste. I enjoyed it. It's light and drinkable despite the sharpness, with enough complexity to be actively interesting.

A change of the seasons later and Boyne Brewhouse's new Winter Ale has emerged. It's brewed to 8% ABV and comes in the pure Scandi style, deep red in colour and eschewing any novelty winter spices. It's still spicy, though: a roasty spark of incense and nutmeg. There's a Belgian feel to the base, a dubbel-like mix of toffee, banana and fig. While tasting the full strength it doesn't get hot or cloying and there's a drying shot of espresso right on the end, accompanied by a modest square of dark chocolate. Like the summery quaffer above, this fulfils its role well: properly wintery and warming with no silly gimmicks involved. A half-litre bottle or tall can would have worked as well as the 33cl; just saying.

Also going full winter was St Mel's Brewing, with Slow Burner extra stout. The shadow of Leann Folláin hangs over this, St Mel's's Liam having formulated the iconic stout while head brewer at Carlow. At 6.5% ABV this is slightly stronger and also a lot drier, with a huge bitterly roasted foretaste, all burnt toast and the darkest of chocolate. There's a delicious floral/herbal complexity backing this -- rosewater and liquorice -- with rosewater in the aroma too. The texture is surprisingly light for the strength, which makes for easy drinking though I would have liked a bit more of a finish: it all goes away a little too abruptly for my liking. It's a very decent stout, and a bargain at just €3 a bottle as SuperValu's beer of the month for November, but I think the roast really ought to be dialled back a little, with maybe a smidge more hop. If roast is your bag, though, get stuck in.

With the new brewery in Athlone almost completed, Dead Centre released its fourth beer, still brewed at St Mel's in Longford. It's a coffee porter called Moondust, named after the variety of coffee used in it. The colour was surprisingly pale: mahogany brown rather than black. That coffee ain't subtle. There's a raw and dry coffee roast as an aroma, to begin with. The flavour starts out dry too, then a hazelnut sweetness rises up, finishing on a creamy real-latte note. The beery side of the equation is a little lost, but there is a hop tang in here, and some complementary porterish chocolate. Though 5% ABV it's a little on the thin side and I think that overemphasises the coffee roast a little, but there's a decent complexity if you allow yourself time to explore it properly.

One step ahead of Dead Centre, Rascals open their doors to the public for the first time at 4pm today. I went along for a sneak peek last Thursday and it's an impressive set up: the first of its kind in Dublin but hopefully far from the last. Their newest release is an Irish Coffee Stout, aged in Irish whiskey barrels though only 4.8% ABV. It's a charming little chap, smooth and sweet with lots of salty milk chocolate and a touch of honeycomb. The coffee side is quite muted, emerging only at the end as a different kind of sweetness, and I didn't really notice any heat or flavour from the whiskey. I got an overall impression of chocolate milkshake more than Irish coffee, which is pleasant in its own way.

Just under the wire for this post's deadline comes West Coast Speedball from Galway Bay. This is another big and wintery job, 6.5% ABV with espresso and oatmeal and served on nitro. It is therefore gloriously thick -- a real knife-and-fork job. The booze is infused with the coffee which wafts up the back of the palate and there's a long chocolate cake aftertaste, properly dark and bitter chocolate cake at that. This still possesses all the faculties of the powerful stout it's based on but uses the coffee well to enhance this without drowning it out. I'm even ready to forgive the nitro: I don't think the flavour suffers under it, for a change.

It has been a while since we had a new one from Brehon Brewhouse. The latest is interesting: Mechanical Turk. It was billed solely as a coffee milk stout on the boards at UnderDog and I was a few mouthfuls in before I copped the Turkish connection, the cinnamon spicing being actually more apparent than any coffee flavouring. Honey and cardamom follow but the body struggles to push all the sweet spiciness to the drinker's palate -- it's just too thin. There's precious little excuse for that with the ABV at 5.7%. Its high fizz and quick finish are disappointing and it doesn't help that Carlow Brewing made something much better along similar lines with their 2018 Lublin to Dublin. More body is definitely required here.

Four coffee stouts in a row. 'Tis the season, I guess.

Turning back to the hoppy side of the house, Trouble Brewing has taken on the cutting-edge brut IPA style with cans of Brut Almighty, a 6.2% ABV offering, employing Bravo, Hallertau Blanc and Mosaic hops. It pours a sunny yellow shade with a fine pillow of foam on top. The aroma is candysweet rather than dry: Refresher chews and grape soda. While that fruit lingers in the flavour, the juicy white grape in particular, there's a distinct dryness too: I could feel the moisture being lifted from my cheeks and tongue. There's a certain heat as well, a little like with very strong spirits, and there's a spiciness too: the peppery sparks you get in a saison. This is probably the clearest interpretation of brut IPA I've had. It does taste like a good pale 'n' hoppy IPA that has been artificially attenuated lower than usual. Whether this is something worth doing is another question. I think I'd like a bit more malt substance for these hops to bounce around on.

The Social Hops project produced two beers from the 2018 harvest. As well as the Rascals one (reviewed here), Hopfully turned out a Social Hops Rye ale which I caught up with on its launch night in The Square Ball. I wasn't a big fan of it. While there's a pleasant peppery effect from the rye and a wholesome bread-like malt flavour, it's quite dreggy, with a rough burr of yeast dominating the taste. There's a raw alcoholic heat as well. The bottom line may well be that it doesn't have enough hops. Break out the tomato feed next year, growers.

DOT broke out the hopsack too recently, with a new session IPA called Total Gridlock. 4.1% ABV, hazy and pale with a strongly resinous aroma. Expecting an oily bitter flavour, I was wrong footed completely by the first mouthful: a blast of juicy fruit, all peach, satsuma and apricot, buiding to zesty lime before finishing up on the grassy dank I thought I would be getting at the start. All of that happens on a soft and very chuggable base and there are zero technical flaws, that I could detect at least. I don't know how long this one will stay fresh so snap it up if and when you see it.

At the opposite end of the scale, the new Whiplash oat-laden double IPA is called Cream on Chrome, utilising Lemondrop and Citra, and the usual 8% ABV. It pours an unpleasant looking pale beige with a loose cask-like head which doesn't hang around long. There's a fun tropical pineapple flavour from the first sip but it's gone by the second, leaving gritty yeast and hard alcohol behind. That old reliable double act of garlic and vanilla emerges as it warms, that latter particularly strong in the aroma. I'm deeming this a bust. While it has all the makings of a jolly modern DIPA, the accents are in the wrong places and the bright fresh hop character, which ought to be the centrepiece, is all but missing. Still, lots of people seem to like this sort of thing these days and you'll know already whether this is for you or not.

The first joker in this pack of IPAs is Mangoes Barefoot from Lacada, kindly shared by Simon, of course. Lactose and oats make it a thick affair, the appearance a hazy yellow with 5.5% ABV. I got a lightly soapy aroma, a little like shower gel, perhaps, though the flavour is perfectly clean and untainted. There's a pleasant mix of citric bitterness and real tropical fruit, and while it's missing a vibrant juicy side it works instead as a smooth and sweet dessert. I don't know that it's an improvement on non-fruited IPA, but it does its own thing quite well.

Finally, the run-up to Halloween brought Trouble's now-iconic pumpkin beer out of the woodwork, but also a "pumpkin IPA" from Boghopper: Attempted Murder. There's the usual rough and homebrewish Boghopper feel to this, including a touch of the rubbery smoke twang I complained about previously, though at a lower intensity than before. It pours a muddy ochre colour, with lots of fizz resulting in a thick head. I don't get any pumpkin spice, or much by way of hops, just sweet summery berries, like you might find in a red ale. There's a bitter tang on the finish which I guess provides its IPA credentials, but other than that it's more like an amber ale. As usual with this brewery the yeast grit does get in the way of the flavour; cleaned up it would probably be quite tasty, if not exactly seasonal.

I think Boyne comes out of this as the overall winner, with DOT's Total Gridlock the single best beer. Good hustle everyone. Until next round up...

07 November 2018

Ticking casks and taking names

On a determinedly damp Saturday morning last month I set off for Dún Laoghaire and the Wetherspoon 2018 Autumn Festival, hoping desperately that the beers available would be worth the drenching. There were no high-profile international collaborations this year, which took a little bit of the fun away. Is it wrong to see something a bit Brexity in the purely-GB line-up?

I started with a trilogy including Inveralmond's Ossian, which isn't on the festival list but howanever. It's an attractive medium gold colour with a honey and lemon sweetness, turning to a waxy bitterness in the finish. It's extremely refreshing, the dryness in each mouthful cleaning the sugar away and setting up the next. In one sense it was the perfect kick-off but also suited to drinking in much larger quantities than thirds.

Mauldon's Blackberry Porter is next. It could be my imagination but there appeared to be a purpleish tint to the black beer. The fruit is unsubtle to say the least: a sweet and sticky forest-fruit syrup with as much raspberry and raisin in it as blackberry. The base contributes a milk chocolate flavour and some burnt toast, and all-in it's not an unpleasant combination. I bet it tastes far better without the "enhancement" though.

My guess was that Salopian's Hop Twister would be the pick of the bunch. The Shropshire brewery rarely puts a foot wrong. It looked much like the Ossian: clear and blonde. The aroma offers a promising citrus buzz, suggesting lemon and grapefruit. No surprises on tasting: a powerful lemon-rind bitterness, but also lots of malt sugar which balances it and makes it taste of a lemon-flavoured boiled sweet. A tannic dry finish prevents that from getting cloying. While neither subtle nor especially complex it is rather jolly.

The final tick for this visit was Autumn Leaves by Upham Brewery. It's the appropriate shade of russet and mostly quite dry, roasty even, presenting a toffee flavour without the sweetness. It manages to taste sufficiently autumnal, which I guess is the point, but there's little else interesting about it. This time a third was plenty, as tends to be the case with the medium-dark beers at the Wetherspoon festival.

To Blackrock, then, and two more that aren't on the festival list, beginning with Elgood's Greyhound. It looks like an average brown bitter and tastes terrible, redolent with disinfectant phenols suggesting it's been on here for a while. Mercifully they're just at the front of the flavour, fading quickly to leave a strong-tea dryness and some grain husk. Even perfectly kept I doubt this would be any good.

I wasn't familiar with Swansea's Boss Brewery, nor their US IPA Brave. At 5.5% ABV it's a bit low-strength for the style but it tastes big and chewy, leaning heavily on the caramelised malt at the expense of fresh hopping. There's a definite old-world feel to it, all metal and jaffa, making me suspect that this too has been on tap too long and is far from freshness. Or maybe it was just another dull brown bitter to begin with. I got to give it a second chance in a different branch subsequently, finding it pretty much the same so I can't pin this one on the pub.