02 March 2018

Marching onwards

Another month is upon us and it's time for another random assortment of Irish beer. We'll start in the pub, but none of my usual haunts. One evening in January I found myself in the north east corner of Dublin with a bit of time on my hands. I decided to drop into Brú House Fairview, the Meath brewery's footprint in the capital. It's a well-appointed pub with comfy bar stools and high baquettes along the narrow bar space at the front. Obviously the selection runs big on Brú's own beers and there were two available that I hadn't had before.

Brú House 43 isn't the first independent Irish beer to take a swipe at Diageo's Hop House 13 with its branding, though it is the closest effort at a clone. It's a bright and happy clear gold colour and instead of HH13's soft fruit goes for a more assertive perfume and incense vibe, bringing a properly invigorating bitterness. It's nicely light and very drinkable, though did have a bit of a funky aftertaste which I didn't care for. That wasn't enough to spoil things and I was happy at the end of my glassful. Were I a regular I might see myself drinking more of this.

I was intrigued, however, by Brú Pilsner, another one which only exists in draught form. This is a mere 3.5% ABV, which is an odd niche for a microbrewed lager to occupy. It arrived looking hazy and unfinished and tasted disturbingly tart: lemon juice to be charitable, but with definite overtones of vinegar as well. There's also the crunchy grain of many a brewpub lager, and overall, while not a terrible beer, it doesn't taste proficiently brewed, and certainly not for a pils.

Down closer to town I stopped by Grainger's, opposite Connolly Station. It wasn't my first time in this old school boozer with a strong beer game, but it was the first time hunting a new beer, namely The Maverick Goose, recently released by obvious Top Gun fans Wood Key Brewing. A session IPA of 3.7% ABV, it arrived a hazy pale yellow colour and exuding a lovely fresh lemon zest aroma. The flavour is firmly in the bathroom cabinet, or possibly the male grooming aisle, mixing up talc, pomade and aftershave balm: a heady fragrant blend of perfumes and herbs, set against more serious cedar and frankincense spicing. There's an awful lot going on for the strength, yet it's not busy or overdone in any way. It's also light without being watery: summery, refreshing and clean. Maverick indeed. Well played, Wood Key.

Onto more regular turf next, and a YellowBelly beer in UnderDog. Sourglass is their latest (at time of writing) sour fruit beer, a bit of a lightweight at just 4% ABV. It packs plenty of punch, however: a jarring tartness which hits the teeth first then works backwards. Behind it comes a typical Berliner weisse waterbiscuit husk, and then a contrasting fruit sweetness, tasting mostly like peach nectar to me, though the fruit involved are lemons, pears and passionfruit, not that I was able to pick any of those out. The sourness calms down after a moment or two, and the blend of flavours reminds me a lot of the brewery's classic Castaway, with maybe the tartness pushed up a notch and the juicy fruit down a couple. However you slice it, it is very tasty, putting YellowBelly back on form after a couple of lacklustre efforts.

To Urban Brewing next. Their third release of 2018 was Tropical Storm, a 4.1% ABV pale ale that falls into that insidious trap of using the T-word without tasting of banging amounts of sweet and juicy fruits. It did look like Um Bongo, at least: a bright opaque orange. The flavour, however, is all gritty and earthy yeast dregs. This does give it some pleasant spices, but not enough to compensate, and there's very little discernible hop character at all, beyond mild and very untropical orange aroma and flavour.

The next release was for Valentine's Day: Aphrodisiac stout, brewed with cacao, chilli and oysters. I was intrigued. What I was served was slightly sad looking: a flat and murky-brown pint. The chocolate really dominates it, sweet and milky, with hazelnut overtones. By way of balance there's an extreme ash-dry finish. I had to go looking for the oysters and I think I did detect a certain saltiness, though no more than you'd typically find in ordinary milk chocolate. The chilli is very shy, only building enough to be tasted at the very end. Overall it's a decent chocolate stout, if not really as exciting as the description implied.

Two new Irish New Englands also arrived simultaneously in mid-February, both showing up on the taps at Alfie Byrne's on the same evening. I tried Eight Degrees's Neon Velvet first, an accessible 5%-er, with added kiwi and lime. A murky orange colour, it opens with a soft fluffy texture, in accordance with the genre. After that there's a strange dish-soap taste, present in the aroma as well, which I'm guessing is down to the citrus addition. That develops into the centrepiece of the flavour: a full-on green bitterness, like cabbage or spinach: untypical for the style but highly enjoyable. The more predictable vanilla and garlic only began creeping in as the pint warmed, and they sat uncomfortably beside the punchiness. While I did enjoy the beer, it does seem to be neither one thing nor the other, the flavours not quite integrated into a coherent whole. Maybe I needed a second pint to get the measure of it properly, but there was another beer to try.

Rascals has embarked on a trilogy of New England style beers, named "759" after their respective ABVs. Seven, the IPA in the middle, was the first out. Marks off for clarity, to begin: this was a see-thorough golden colour. It smells of Mikado biscuits, pink marshmallow and coconut. and then it is bizarrely thin and dry, almost the opposite of what New England thingies are meant to be. The flavour is a squeaky-leek greenness, with a little bitterness but not much else. Most of all it taste wrung-out and over processed, like the substance has been filtered or aged out of it. I'm minded to give the canned version a shot as this might be just an issue with the draught edition, but I wouldn't be confident it's as the brewer intended.

To 57 The Headline next, one of a handful of pubs to receive the second beer in Black Donkey's Unhinged series. Pablo's Potion is a coffee IPA, just 5.2% ABV and surprisingly pale: a medium yellow-amber colour. It tastes crisp and dry at first, like a pilsner, before exploding with fresh coffee, all sweetly dessertish. That's suddenly joined by hop fruit of the mango and peach variety, before a dry dark-roast coffee finish. It's all quite a rollercoaster, fast and fun with several thrilling and unexpected twists. And yet it's still a very well-made beer at its core, if a smidge over-carbonated. Gimmickry is a lot more forgivable when cleanly done like this.

The supermarket beer war rumbles on. Aldi had been lagging behind its rivals  in my estimation, largely on hop grounds. Their new ace in the hole is O'Shea's IPA, presumably   brewed at Carlow Brewing like the rest of the O'Shea's range. It's a full 5% ABV and a very handsome clear copper shade. Fresh banging hops? Sadly, no, not really. There's a tight, somewhat astringent, bitterness: a pinch of lemon essence and marmalade shred suggesting that English IPA is the vernacular they've chosen. That might lead one to expect some chewy malt but it's surprisingly thin, with a soda-water mineral texture. Like the other O'Shea's ales this is is fine but not very exciting. Aldi is still playing second fiddle where hops are concerned.

Prism is the last of the Clearsky range I have to try. The others weren't great, so I wasn't in a rush, but a set is a set, and it needed completing. This is a red ale of 4.5% ABV. It poured clearly with no sediment in the bottle, so can't possibly have been bottle conditioned, in which case there's absolutely no excuse for it being almost completely flat. There's just the faintest of sparkle and the lack of fizz really harms the flavour. Laughably, the label mentions tropical fruit, but there's none of that. It's understandably malt-forward, tasting predominantly of dry cereal, Bran Flakes, in particular. There are some fun subtleties behind this, hints of dark chocolate, strawberries, and a peppercorn spicing, but this is where the carbonation should have come in to lift them forward. A a whole, the beer is fine for a red ale but with a little tweaking could be exceptional.

The eagerly awaited second beer from Dead Centre Brewing is called </sourcecode> and is a pale ale. Brewing is still happening at St Mel's, though the brewery build project is in progress. It's a completely clear medium-amber colour and smells sharply lemonish at first -- hello Citra -- with a sweeter cake aroma coming in behind it. The carbonation is very light, almost imperceptible unless you let it sit on the tongue for a while. Hop no. 2 is Cascade and it dominates the foretaste, with its earthy, sweaty, almost metallic, bitter punch. Mosaic is the final one, and it's harder to find. There's maybe a mild stonefruit note lurking in the background, but the Cascade keeps it quiet. Its malt base is soft and smooth, but allows the hops to be the main act. The finish is long, and probably the most bitter part of the experience, scorching the back of the palate slightly. I'm reminded of classic balanced pale ales like Sierra Nevada's here, and it's all the more impressive for achieving that at just 4% ABV. Obviously, avant garde branding and 440ml cans is the way Dead Centre has chosen to go, but I'd still love to sit down with a proper pint of this from the cask. I reckon it would really suit that.

Barrel aged imperial black IPA is a brand new variant of a variant for me. This one was created by DOT for top Dublin offie Martin's of Fairview and is called The Portrait Project. It pours smooth and flat; jet black showing murky brown with the light behind it. The aroma speaks of classic black IPA: that mix of roast and citrus, with a subtle bonus herbal complexity behind it. It tastes of grapefruit first, the bitterness intensifying, veering to raw green cabbage then finally tar. That sounds unpleasant, but it's lovely -- all punchy and assertive without turning harsh. There's a smoothness to it which I'm guessing is the barrel at work, and a sour lime effect which suggested bourbon to me straight away. The barrel's influence is little more than decorative and this is very much a clean and uncomplicated hop-forward dark beer, probably not one for ageing any further. Rumours of black IPA's demise continue to be exaggerated, thankfully.

And if it's not barrel aged and black, it's Double Heather Sour Ale. This is the latest in the sour series from Lough Gill. Double is right: 9% ABV and tasting every bit of it. It's more bitter than sour, harshly waxy with a metallic finish, like the more severe sort of English bitter. Most of all, however, it's heavy, packed with chewy malt which totally destroys the clean-edge sharpness that sour beers do well. There's stale brown bread, old sweat, and lies lies lies. It comes down to this: there's no heather, none of the promised floral qualities, and while it's definitely big and strong, it's not in a good way. This is a beer that needs to chill out and calm down. Strong and sour is tough and I don't think Lough Gill is up to pulling it off yet. Try a dark one next.

To conclude, for now, there was a new bottled beer by Costellos for the winter, though it was late February by the time it reached me. Fireside is a "snug", "indulgent" porter at 4.6% ABV. It looks black, showing a clear shade of ruby when held up to the light. There's roasted grains in spades from the outset, dry though not harsh, accompanied by a strong bitterness and lots of tongue-scrubbing bubbles. It takes a moment before some chocolate emerges but it doesn't hang around long. The hops come back at the end, providing a long vegetal finish. I liked it: it's classical and no-nonsense, grown-up and free from candyish gimmicks. I wouldn't say it's particularly wintery though, needing a few more ABV points and a higher finishing gravity for that. If there's any left by summertime it'll still make a great warm day refresher, however.

That's all I have space for now, but I'll try and squeeze a few more new Irish releases in ahead of Alltech Brews & Food next week.

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