16 February 2018

Trilogy part two

I wrote about my first three Vocation beers early last year, all with affirming names, beginning "Heart", "Pride" and "Life". Three more came my way recently, via Dublin off licence Stephen Street News. "Cloak", "Naughty" and "Smash" suggested I was in for an altogether darker experience.

Cloak & Dagger, an oatmeal stout, resisted my efforts to photograph it with a decent head, the bubbles fading away to nothing with each top-up before I could grab my camera. "Rich & Creamy" goes the strapline, as oatmeal stout is supposed to be. But this isn't. I was quite shocked by how thin it is, even at 5.9% ABV. There's an overactive sparkle creating a carbonic dryness, and then a hard metallic bitterness, presumably from English hops. The hopping is a bigger part of it than any more typical stout aspects: there's a little burnt toast and some espresso, but that's as far as it goes. It is quite tasty, free of flaws and with a character all its own. The unmet expectation created by the brewery's description did spoil my enjoyment a little, however.

They can't possibly have made the same mistake with Naughty & Nice, a chocolate stout at 7.5% ABV, can they? It's just as tragically headless, with a strangely sour aroma. The chocolate flavour is sweet and artificial, reminding me of ersatz-chocolate sweets from my childhood. It does have a nice texture, full and smooth, but the flavour is not right. It's by turns too sweet, unexpectedly sour and with a similar metallic twang as found in the previous one. Maybe a change of style will help.

Last of the set is a double IPA: Smash & Grab. It smelled fantastic, all bright and fresh apricot, though is murky and I could tell the last of the pour was pure dreggy gunk. A warning about that on the can would help. Nevertheless it tastes gorgeous. There's the slick vanilla and burning garlic that so many brewers try to jam into their IPAs these days, but balanced perfectly between them and properly bitter too. The very apparent 8.5% ABV supercharges the lot without adding any unpleasant heat. Of yeast and dregs there is no trace, buried under the hop fireworks. This is genuinely a cut above most of what gets badged as New England IPA these days, and that includes the style archetypes which don't use those particular words.

And then a beer arrived which sidestepped Vocation's usual three-colour branding but was explicitly badged as a New England IPA. Blueprint is a collaboration with Atom Beers of Hull. It's not all that murky, as these things go, but plods through the style points in a workmanlike way. Vanilla first, garlic after, yet without the punch the good ones, like Smash & Grab above, offer. Claggy yeast takes over after a moment, and the finish is harsh and plasticky. This is a New England-style IPA for those who want their prejudices against them confirmed, which I'm sure was not the breweries' intent.

Quite a contrast here. In general, I think pale 'n' hoppy is where Vocation's strength lies.