19 February 2018

Agile development

A core range seems increasingly to be an optional feature for new breweries. You can argue the merits or otherwise of that amongst yourselves. Today's post concerns two relatively recent additions to the Irish brewing scene, neither particularly pushed about having permanent beers in their respective line-ups.

Third Barrel is that odd betweeny brand produced by Third Circle and Stone Barrel at their shared brewery in Dublin. After several months of silence it was very busy with the new releases at the beginning of 2018, most of them showing up on the handpump at UnderDog.

First out was Plum Mild, enough of a rarity to make the mild-starved beer drinkers of Dublin line up for it, even in the depths of early January. It's 4% ABV and a gorgeous dark ruby colour, its flavour mixing perfectly the milk chocolate and succulent fruit. The latter tastes more of juicy raisins than plum, with an additional sweet blackberry preserve character. A pinch of black pepper at the end of it all finishes it with a flourish. Unlike a lot of milds, there's no roast or bitterness here; nothing to allow any harshness in. While it's predominantly sweet, it remains light and clean enough to avoid getting cloying, as evidenced by the three pints I caned in a row. I hope we'll be seeing more of it.

When that cask emptied it was replaced soon after by Third Barrel's Huell Melon SMASH pale ale. It started out all new-worldy, with a spritzy jaffa flavour, then takes a more waxy turn, finishing on an altogether harsher, but not unpleasant, bitterness. It's nicely big-bodied and the malt (Loughran's pale, SMASH fans) gives it the feel of a wholesome quality lager, those hops very much hanging on to their German passports. At 5% ABV it's maybe a little too strong and heavy for quaffing, but just one pint hit the spot beautifully.

Rumbling out next was dry-hopped Franken Stout. I think I can see where the name comes from as it's a strung-together mélange of contrasting flavours: sweet chocolate bolted onto juicy mandarin with a tighter, more astringent, grapefruit finish, plus lighter meadowy flowers. Though it's the strongest so far at 5.5% ABV, I found it very easy to slam through a pint, the bitterness keeping the chocolate in check. The body is nicely light and the sweetness doesn't build. This sort of multilayered complexity is probably what brewers are trying to get at when they bung extra fruit or flavourings into their casks. It's worth putting the effort in to do it properly from the start, I reckon.

Finally, Third Barrel Red IPA, which I am extracting from my forthcoming round-up of the Franciscan Well's Cask Ales and Strange Brews Festival for reasons of thematic cohesion. I do actually plan these posts, you know. The style is not one that normally does much for me, usually taking the toffee excesses of red ales and adding unnecessary bitter acidity. With this one at 6.8% ABV I feared the worst of all that. But! It's surprisingly light and easy-going, offering zesty sherbet and only light caramel: all very simple and accessible. Dialling down the punch to amber ale levels is definitely the way to go with these. This particular recipe has graduated beyond the Third Barrel pilot phase and has joined the Third Circle range in full production as their Red IPA.

Also keeping me busy with specials and one-offs, in the same pub, around the same time, was Wicklow's Larkin's Brewery. There were three new beers out of four in their January tap takeover and I began with Larkin's American Lager. From the name I was expecting big hops so was disappointed to find it crisp and clean but otherwise uninteresting. There's a slight noble-hop mustiness but it's more sweet than hoppy, reminding me a little of the Vienna style... and then it clicked. They're going for a sort of pre-Prohibition vintage American feel here, and yeah, I guess it does that. My initial sense of underwhelm lingered, however.

Something perkier next: Non-Stop IPA, a pretender to Founders's throne, it seems, though at 5.5% ABV a fair bit heftier than All Day. This is a similar medium-gold colour to the foregoing, this time with