02 February 2018

Gate and switch

An icy gale was whipping the flurries of snow down James's Street and barely a sinner was out in it, except for the trickle of Ireland's beer commentariat filing through the entrance to Open Gate Brewery. The bar was almost eerily quiet this Tuesday night: closed to the regular revellers, and with all the taps blank and the blackboards clean. We had been invited along to taste the latest Guinness beer, without any clue as to what it was. My rumour that a mixed fermentation barrel-aged version of Satzenbrau was in the offing had failed to gain traction.

Out came the tasting trays of the new beer, introduced by brewer John Casey. It's a lager, he told us. While it looked like one, of the clear golden sort anyway, it didn't feel like one. The body was quite heavy, gummy almost, and I suspected that, as with Hop House 13, it was fermented with an ale yeast. There's a somewhat wort-like sweetness up front, but followed and almost fully offset by soft stonefruit hop flavours: mango and peach in particular. Topaz, Galaxy and Mosaic are the hops: the same combination used in HH13, and the main reason for its similarity. The twist is that the new beer, Pure Brew, is alcohol-free, or near-as at 0.5% ABV. Although I spotted the malt-extract sweetness which so often marks these, the hopping was sufficient to completely prevent me making the association. The technicals of it, explained next, are quite interesting. Here comes the science part: concentrate.

I don't know how often this happens with non-alcoholic beer, but it's not brewed to strength and then de-alcoholised. They start with a wort of around 1.030 and pitch a special variety of yeast which brings it down no further than about 1.025 before finishing of its own accord. The quirk of this process that really interested me is that this is one of the very few Guinness beers you'll find out and about that's produced at sale strength rather than brewed and fermented at high gravity and watered down before packaging. Though it bears the name of the Open Gate Brewery like every new release lately, there is a pleasing piece of extra transparency on the back label "Dreamed up at the Open Gate Brewery. Brewed next door in St James's Gate", as are all the Open Gate branded beers that are distributed beyond the taproom itself. A thumbs up for this, and I'll happily overlook the slight topographical inaccuracy.

Pure Brew works well as a non-alcoholic offering. Yes it's a bit sweet and heavy, but that hop profile, if it survives out on the dusty floor-level shelves where pubs keep these products, is enough of a redeeming feature to give it the beatings of its German rivals.

L: Plum Pudding Porter ; R: Olde English Ale
Duty to the new guy done, there was time for some swift catching-up on Open Gate's winter offerings. First out was Plum Pudding Porter. I was imagining a sticky confection, especially given the downright imperialist ABV of 7.2%, but it's pleasingly dry right from the very first sip. The pastry element is present but understated: raisin and prune, lightly spiced with cinnamon. It's a proper winter beer, not gimmicky, and with the fruit and spice additions well integrated into the flavour, not squirted in as an afterthought which seems to be too often the case with this lot.

Olde English Ale is apparently a staff favourite. It's another dark and strong one, 7.5% ABV this time, given 11 months of maturation before serving. It's also quite dry, with a bit of Foreign Extra Stout's bitter bite balanced by toffee in the tail end. While clean and straightforward, I thought it lacked something with regard to complexity: it feels like it should have more interesting mature beer flavours, some coffee or cocoa; even a cheeky savoury edge of autolytic umami, but everything it does arrives in one go and leaves the palate just as promptly.

A total change of tack for the evening's finisher, and a perfect contrast to the heavy stuff. Goodbye Gose is that rare bird: a gose that hasn't been hacked around with in the mistaken belief that the style needs syrupy enhancements. This is absolutely straight up, 5% ABV, offering a refreshing briney salt foretaste countered by tart lemon and all set on a gently effervescent body. You may not think you need cleansing refreshment on a snowy night in January, but this delivers it anyway, and I felt the better for it. It could probably stand to be a little sourer for my taste, but worked absolutely perfectly as-is.

Once again Open Gate excels at a German beer style. Sure you'd wonder why they bother with the dark stuff at all.

 A little over a week later I was back in for something else and two new additions had gone on the bar. Winter Sunshine is another pale ale, 5% ABV, and suffering from the thick syrupyness that seems to beset most Open Gate attempts at doing properly hop-forward beers. It's not unpleasant, having a kind of bittersweet marmalade orange taste, as well as a fun peppery spice. It completely fails to be refreshing, however, coming through heavy and a little cloying. The refreshment quotient is disappointingly low.

The other new one was a complete contrast: Dunkel Hefeweizen, obviously a wheat beer but arriving looking like a stout: black with a beige head. The term "hybrid" gets thrown around to an inappropriate extent in modern beer, but this really did taste and smell like an amalgam of two very distinct styles. There's the rich and sweet brown-banana of a particularly warm-fermented weizen, sitting next to the dry burnt-toast flavour of a particularly roasty stout. A curious mix, and one that shouldn't work, but I quite liked its oddness. The blandness that often besets dunkelweisse is mercifully absent. On the down side it is a bit thin, with a low energy ABV of 4.6%. The fun flavour blend does go a long way to make up for that, however.

That's it from Open Gate for now. I've an appointment there in early March and will be hoping to meet the spring collection then.


  1. There's been a minor fad for black Schwarzweizen across the /other/ water in recent years, some better integrated than others - e.g. the Kapuziner Weissbier Schwarz works excellently in my view, whereas the Schneider Porter-Weisse (the 2014 Tap X) was good, but as you describe, came over as a little too much of an amalgam.

  2. There's a lesson here about styles, I think. Call it a dunkelweisse and it's confusing, but "weissbier schwartz", despite the oxymoron, makes far more sense.