07 March 2018

Festival prep

A final look at assorted new-release Irish beers ahead of the Alltech festival which opens at the Convention Centre tomorrow and runs to Saturday.

Rascals will be there, and the latest one I had from them was Wit or Witout Woo. As the name suggests, it's a re-imagining of Wit Woo, the witbier in the original Rascals line-up back in 2014. I do miss that beer, and this intensified the longing as it's superb. It opens on an aroma popping with cardamom and ground black pepper, moving on to a flavour packed with fresh leafy coriander but no trace of soapiness. A bitter cloudy lemonade hit arrives in the finish. This is a pure classic witbier: clean, bold and highly refreshing. More please.

YellowBelly aren't at the festival but it's hard to do these round-ups without at least one of theirs creeping in. Today it's three, beginning at Yellowsub Machine, a pale ale brewed with the titular German hop composition. It's a hazy orange colour, and very bitterly pithy to begin. There's lots of Teutonic herbal greenness, almost turning to a more west-coast dank. This is followed by a softer juicy mandarin quality. It's almost great, except for a yeasty gak that interferes with the hop profile, and a watery finish that arrives too soon. As-is, it's fine as a 5% ABV middle-of-the-road pinter, but lacks any wow factor.

For more chance of wow I turned to InterDimensional, the first release in YellowBelly's beer club series. It's a dry-hopped sour ale made with TNT and Vic Secret. The juice quotient from the latter hop is off the charts, beyond its usual chew sweets and into full blown tropical breakfast juice. The sourness, in turn, is explosively puckering, making the whole thing an exhausting workout for the palate. Wow indeed. Sour and hoppy is kinda my thing, and at 4.7% ABV this ought to be refreshing and sessionable, but the front-loaded intensity made it too much hard work for my liking, and there's a rough and dry yeast burr as well. I opened it on the day of delivery so maybe a little time is needed to help it settle down. Good job they sent me four.

YellowBelly also had a new session IPA, which I found at Underdog as it reopened after last week's snow crisis. Perhaps appropriately it's called Post Ahopalypse and it's a little on the strong side for the style at 5% ABV. The appearance is striking: opaque orange with an almost peachy glow. Alas, the yeast bites hard in this one, with a dry cracker savoury quality dominant from the start. Paradoxically, the hop character emerges more as it warms, and I was treated to hints of juicy jaffa and a sterner lime and grapefruit bitterness. They're not prominent, unfortunately, and never quite cover up the earthy yeast grit.

It's almost surprising that C&C aren't exhibiting at Alltech. They've been quietly expanding their faux craft Dowd's Lane range to include two new beers. Neither had really passed my way until I chanced upon the IPA, 12 O'Clock Mass, on the shelves at Dunnes. The design is striking: a matt-black can with silvery illustrations superimposed with stark white all-caps: all very much the look of a big well-funded brewery trying to get down with the kids. Though it mentions the historical Magner's Cidery, there's no mention that it's from the same company. There's also some unpleasant guff about it being based on recipes from the 18th century brewery that occupied the site beforehand. Guys, please, no.

It's a light 4.5% ABV and a cheery clear gold colour. There's a Lucozade aroma, all sticky syrup and artificial fruit, though not unpleasant. The flavour intensifies that: lurid chew sweets, cheap perfume and overpowering air freshener. It's IPA from the replicator, or brewed by someone who had never tasted one. It's not offensive, it's not bland, but it's not very good either, unbalanced in its sweetness and lacking freshness or zing. Perhaps the stalwart brewers of Georgian-era Murphy's of Clonmel would have approved, but my tastes run more modern.

You will find 12 Acres at the festival, and just ahead of it they released their latest seasonal beer, Farmer's Tan. Officially described as an American brown ale, I'm told that the recipe started out as a black IPA and I can completely see how. In fact, I'm not sure the designation needed to be changed. Yes, it is brown rather than black, but darkly so -- in the light of most pubs you wouldn't notice the difference. The flavour opens with a riot of C-hops, turning out bitter grapefruit and sweet Refresher chews. A sprinkle of coffee-like roast follows, as well as a slight astringency in the finish. This, and a certain thinness of body, are the only weak points in what is otherwise a fantastic beer: punchy and invigorating, tasting properly dark but roaring with all the fun hops too.

The new one from Galway Bay also goes big on hops. Weights + Measures is 3.9% ABV and murky yellow, so I'm guessing is something like a relative of the Croozer session IPA they released last summer. Here it's Citra hops doing all the work, which is normally a cue for big bitterness but this is all about the juice. I got freshly-squeezed orange juice from the outset, and then a smack of thicker vanilla in the tail, making me wonder if some lactose has been included. The aroma is more typically Citra, being all freshly zested lemon. For a light and relatively cheap single hopper, this has a lot going on in it. I'll be happy if it hangs around a while.

Ballykilcavan Brewing will be making its Dublin début at the festival, with a new beer. Their own brewery is still under preparation and I caught up with their first release recently on a visit to the brewery which produces it: Kildare Brewing in Sallins. More on that excursion in a later post. Bin Bawn is a pale ale, and quite a dark one: a handsome shade of medium amber. It doesn't go all-out for hops, hitting more of a traditional English vibe: smooth of texture with a light toffee base and some red apple fruit tones. The best feature is a tannic dryness, lending it the feel of a cup of strong black tea, with all the quenching refreshment that comes with. This is a rock-solid quaffing beer, and well built for the session at 4.6% ABV.

Brand new to the market is Crafty Bear Brewing, working from the Third Barrel brewery. Bear Beer one is Tastes Like Sumt'n: a straight-up IPA at 6% ABV. It's a darkish amber colour and slightly murky with it. The aroma is a lovely blend of orange fruit, Christmas spices and dry minerals, old school yet bright and fresh. It tastes heavy and funky, packed with greasy resins. The mineral side is strongly accentuated, adding to the hop bitterness, so a sip starts on summer fruit, sails past oily winter herbs, and builds to quite a harsh metallic tang. It's unquestionably rough, lacking any subtleties, but it also has bucketloads of hops, which earns it my forgiveness. In a world that increasingly seems to have forgotten that new IPAs should be bitter, this offers a very stark reminder.

Carrig Brewing will have a a stand at the festival and if they've any sense they'll be pouring their recent triumph Hop Bomb. The follow-up is Starwolf, a pale and hazy IPA of 5.5% ABV offering an odd mix of the bitter and sweet. It opens on a hard lime tang, and this is quickly followed by sweet New-Englandesque vanilla. All the way through the pint, this tension continues, each side almost rising to dominate the other but never quite managing it. A creamy coconut flavour is the closest they come to melding together. Despite the loud clashing, it all works quite well: the beer is tasty and pretty much balanced, albeit in a slightly peculiar way. I picked up a little yeast dirt, but the hopping is extreme enough to prevent that from compromising the overall flavour too much. Another great draught special from Carrig.

Our final exhibitor is Wicklow Wolf, bringing Born 'N Bread, the first in a new series of limited-run beers. It's a brown bread and marmalade stout, which I guess puts it on the more mature, grown-up, side of the pastry stout spectrum. There's something a little unfinished-looking about it: the murky brown colour and token head which quickly fades to nothing. There is enough of a sparkle to it, and the texture is decently full, befitting an oatmeal stout of 5.5% ABV. The marmalade effect (achieved using orange and vanilla extracts) doesn't hang around, jumping straight out of the aroma as a sweet and oily Seville orange waft, Terry-fied by additional dark chocolate. On tasting it's orange novelties right from the start, zesty and sugary, like candied peel. The heavier dark malt sits behind this but is never fully expressed, fading to a slightly harsh burnt acridity in the end. Whatever contribution the wholemeal flour made, I couldn't pick up on it. This is much more of a wacky novelty beer than the sombre packaging suggests. It is quite nice to drink, once you're used to it, however. A little more emphasis on the chocolate malt side might have improved it.

If you're hitting the Convention Centre at any point this weekend, whatever you're drinking, have a wonderful time and I may see you there.


  1. Anonymous8:36 pm

    Draft special? Draught, surely?

    1. Arrgh! Proof read in haste, repent at leisure. Thank you!