23 March 2018

Short hop

I finally made it to the Lock 13 Brewpub in Sallins! Admittedly I had to be all but marched there via an invite from the house to come and participate in a beery symposium hosted by head brewer Brendan Murphy. The bar itself is lovely, rangey in that country family pub way, stretching out along the Grand Canal at the eponymous lock. The latest add-on is the Kildare Brewing Company, in production since last summer and, for the moment, supplying beer mainly to the pub and its sister, The Silken Thomas in Kildare Town. It's very handy for Dublin, too: less than half an hour on the commuter train from Heuston.

From his homebrew days, Brendan has been known as a wizard with lager, and so it was with Kildare Brewing Co. Lager that I started my journey through the range. In keeping with the general theme of the beers, it's sessionable and accessible, 4.2% ABV and sparkling clean in a way that brewpub lagers rarely are. Despite the modest strength it's not thin, displaying a solid malt base with even a slightly sticky golden syrup or marmalade quality. A fun spicy bitterness is the hops' contribution, a subtle addition to the otherwise malt forward beer. It's perhaps not as smooth as the classic examples of the helles style, but it's still perfectly serviceable.

Hoppy Lager was previous called Pilsner but the brewery found customers weren't getting it. I'm not sure I'm getting it either as it's still a beer which leans heavily on the malt component, ramping up the ABV to 4.6%. It's drier and altogether plainer than the previous beer, and while yes it is noticeably bitterer I didn't get any extra hop flavour, which was disappointing. While this is unquestionably another well-made pale lager, I'm not sure I see the rationale of having two beers so similar on tap together.

The top-fermented sequence begins with the Weiss, a deliberately light version of the style at just 4% ABV and looking quite pale on it: a wan hazy yellow. The flavours are down-the-line classic: some bubblegum, turning a little to butane, a dusting of clove and a touch of noble-hop celery greenness. I do miss the chewy, fluffy candyfloss body of a bigger weissbier, however. Maybe because it was a cold day in February I missed out on its more summery refreshing side, or maybe I just prefer weissbier with a little more meat on its bones.

Better get through the Red next. This one is weaker still, only 3.8% ABV, so I really wasn't expecting much from it, but it genuinely impressed me. It's remarkably dark, for a start, appearing a ruby-garnet colour in the glass. The flavour is packed with dry roasted notes and dark chocolate, giving it the air of a porter more than a red, or possibly even a mild. There's a very English-ale metallic hop bite in the finish too. You might be disappointed if you were looking for caramel or toffee, but I really liked this roasty twist on a normally uninspiring style. Remember that lovely Irish Red that Aldi used to sell? Yeah, that.

According to Brendan, the Pale Ale on tap was the same as the "English Pale Ale" served on cask at JW Sweetman last year. The barman disagreed, telling me the hopping was different and insisting on giving me a taste. Now maybe it's the dispense, but it tasted different to to me, showing bright and fresh new world resins, rather than the other's heavier wax and honey. I think I still preferred the soft, full richness of the cask one, regardless of whether it's the same beer or not.

Rounding off my draught meanderings was Kildare Extra Stout, a relative thumper of 5.5% ABV. And it genuinely lived up to its billing, opening and then following through on a huge treacle and burnt caramel flavour. This flavour suggests that it ought to be sticky and difficult, but it isn't, slipping back smoothly and finishing clean and dry. The burntness does build as it goes, but thankfully there's enough sweet malt substance to prevent it from turning the taste acrid.

Our talking done, the beer world set to rights, and the importance of sustainability and local ingredients duly emphasised, we were just on the way out the door when Brendan broke out his celebratory Beetroot Ale -- made with Kildare-grown beetroot, of course.

The fresh version is as one might expect when the base style is nothing fancy: no saison yeast or herbal seasonings here, just a big chewy body and a very earthy root-veg flavour. Surprisingly it's only 4.2% ABV: it feels a lot stronger. The real fireworks came with the two-year aged version, where the ABV was pushed up to a massive 9%. It's a clear and bright pink colour and smells delightfully of cherry or raspberry soda pop. The kiddie joy continues in the taste, with more raspberryade and sparkling sherbet. I'd never have guessed from this that beetroot was involved, with all the dry earth cleared neatly away.

There are, of course, expansion plans at Kildare Brewing, but they are modest. More kegs will allow them to distribute a little more widely, though a mass takeover of the Dublin beer trade is not likely to be on the cards. I'm all in favour of keeping it local, and hope to be making more trips out to Lock 13 in the future. Thanks to Brendan, Barry, Orla and all the team at the brewpub, and of course Kellie who definitely doesn't work there but it can be hard to tell that sometimes.

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