05 February 2018

This lot

Protect Ya Neck is a lactose and vanilla IPA, a style description that gives me the absolute fear. It looks like a real IPA all right: an only slightly cloudy medium amber colour. The aroma is unpleasantly sweet, that on-trend lurid-yellow vanilla ice cream thing that has very little to do with real vanilla. And that's the long and the short of the flavour: big sticky melty ice cream with just a half-hearted grassy burr on the end which does not complement the rest of it. The smooth texture is pleasant, though probably contributes even more to the general sickliness. I'm certain this is technically perfect and exactly what the brewer meant it to be, but it is not the sort of beer I enjoy. It needs more hops and, to put not too fine a point on it, to be Ambush.

To the brewpubs next, and JW Sweetman, host of Barrelhead, was pouring the cuckoo's latest creation East Coast IPA, on cask, no less. I was given a cloudy pint, which is par for the course given the name, though was surprised when that turned out to be just the effect of the sparkler and it settled to a fairly clear medium amber. Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic are the hops and they give it a big hit of tropicality right up front, though more like Skittles or Starburst than the real thing. This tails off quickly leaving a pleasant bitterness, one which unfolds to completely take over the palate before the pint is half way finished. I've been noticing this pattern with New England-style IPAs generally: amazing fruit juice on the first mouthful but none beyond that. Usually it's garlic that gets in the way; this time it's pine. I enjoyed this one overall though, the only other thing I noted being its surprisingly thin texture at 5.2% ABV. A kegged version is due to follow.

As it happened, the neighbours were also playing with this on-trend style. Urban Brewing New England IPA is lighter again at 4.9% ABV, and also darker and clearer than one might expect. The characteristic hop freshness isn't in any doubt, with an almost tangible thick and funky resinous aroma. Rather than fruit in the first sip, there's creamy sweet vanilla. That's where the New-Englandishness stops, however. Next there's a sharp bitterness and a dry bite from the excessive carbonation. This beer only brought me half way to New England: very much a mid-Atlantic sort of IPA. After all my kvetching over the murkiness of the brewery's beers I probably deserved getting one that isn't murky enough.

I was treated much better by Urban Brewing Earl Grey IPA. It didn't look great: a muddy foxy shade. A surprisingly fabulous fresh and juicy strawberry flavour opens it up, and I immediately thought I might have been given the Strawberries & Cream beer (reviewed here) by mistake. A taster of that proved that no, this was its own thing. When you get past the red-berry sweetness there's a delightful citrus spritz: unbitter, like a quality lemonade. It did leave me wondering where the tea was in all this, and I think maybe a dry tannic note in the finish shows that at work, but it's quite faint, sitting next to a gentle clove spicing. Overall this is a beautifully light and refreshing summery IPA, and definitely my favourite that the brewery has produced so far.

There's another brewery in Dublin's class of 2017 that I haven't written about yet. Four Provinces launched in 2014 as a client brewer and last year graduated to a standalone brewery, one which is roughly 600 metres from my front door. I should pop round. The first beer fully created on the new kit is Torc Fiáin, a double IPA. I caught up with it at The 108 a couple of weeks ago. Oranges and pine is the executive summary. A surprisingly tart orange zest kicks it off: sharp enough to make me wonder if it was infected. It wasn't, though, it's just a lot drier than a typical DIPA, with an almost spirituous alcohol burn, despite the modest ABV of 7.5%. As it warms it stays clean but gets more complex, showing orange blossom, savoury biscuit and then a big pine bitterness. A sticky cordial note was beginning to creep in as I finished it, but not enough to disturb my enjoyment. Welcome to the neighbourhood.

Carrig's Hop Bomb came recommended by Reuben, on tap at the brewery's Bar Rua. The name promises much from what turned out to be a wan-looking 5.5% ABV IPA. It backs it up, though, beginning with an enticing mix of fresh peach and caraway in the aroma. The flavour, appropriately, explodes onto the tongue with a huge lemon bitterness from the outset. The caraway is present but muted, and while the texture is a little watery, the pithy buzz lasts long enough to be truly satisfying. I'd take this citric Semtex over any number of sticky custard IPAs.

I had been meaning to drop over to The Merry Cobbler in Sandymount for ages. It's the Dublin branch of the more famous Merry's Gastropub in Dungarvan and I stumbled across it in the company of the Fine Ale Coundown team as it's the nearest pub to where they record. There's a modest draught selection, including Rascals, Brú, and a house pale ale called Merry Brew, from Dungarvan Brewing, of course. 4.5% ABV and a pale yellow colour, it smelled a bit musty at first. The flavour is fine, though, if not quite exciting. There's a soda-water minerality with a squeeze of lemon juice for bitterness, finishing dry. I needed a second pint to fully get the measure of it, but the truth is it's designed more for drinking than measuring. Which is absolutely fair enough for a house beer.

We finish with the YellowBelly inevitabilities, starting at the taps at UnderDog. First up is Weisse Versa, a dunkelweisse. While it is the appropriate dark brown colour, the head is a bit lacking, and weissbier never looks the part in a stubby pint glass. Milk chocolate is the main feature, backed by a certain yeast-derived spice. Obviously banana, clove and the like were expected, but never showed up to the party, and the beer gets a black mark in the style column for that. It pretty much tastes how it looks: like a decent fizzy porter, getting better and smoothing out as the carbonation dissipates.

De-Vine Intervention is described as a wet-hopped sour ale, and as such should have been right up my street. It's only 3.7% ABV, however, and I think that really made it pull its punches. A bright hazy gold in appearance, the flavour is at least complex, mixing cantaloupe juiciness with savoury sea salt as well as hints of smoke and farmyard funk. All of these things can be found in great beers of this sort, but here they were just too muted, and once my palate had adjusted, two mouthfuls in, it became almost bland, leaving me reaching to find any flavour at all. I'm definitely not an extremist when it comes to hoppy or sour or funky so this isn't a do you even lacto bro? situation. The recipe really could use some punching up on all sides.

And finally this just in: Electric Dreams, a Simcoe-Amarillo pale ale. A murky yoke, it smells of raw hops: bitter, spicy and vegetal. The texture is thin, and that doesn't do anything to offset the onslaught of big hops. Lemon skin and lime pith start it off, after which the yeast swings in, by turns fun and spicy, then serious and savoury. At the end, the hops fade, leaving the drinker and the yeast in embarrassed silence, trying to think of something to say to each other. Overall, I'm not a fan. It's just too mucky, and the freshness of the hops offer insufficient compensation. I can see how it's sessionable, though: no part of it is going to clog up anyone's palate. It would just be nicer if it showed a bit more polish.

Here endeth the round-up. Still not bad for a quiet January.

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