09 April 2018

A fresh look

Alltech's beer extravaganza rolled into town in early March for its sixth annual outing. The untimely death of company founder Pearse Lyons on the day the gig opened failed to put a damper on things, and the show rolled on as a tribute to his memory. Exhibitor numbers were down, affording extra elbow room in the Convention Centre's main hall. And I still didn't get to try every beer on offer, so no complaints about the scope of the selection from me.

New breweries are always a major draw, so I made an early appearance at the Brewmaster beer stall. This range is produced by Dundalk Bay Brewery, itself a subsidiary of metal fabricator Spectac. I had assumed that the intention was to present the brewery as a showpiece for potential customers, and it may still be, but its primary purpose is as a white-label facility for contract brewing.

The three beers on offer weren't the most distinctive of styles: a lager, a red and an IPA. Brewmaster Lager is 4.2% ABV and surprisingly sweet, to the point of being almost syrupy. Brewmaster Red piles on the caramel, lacing it with chocolate in a complementary way. It's sweet again, but more manageable with it, tasting like it should be thick while staying light and drinkable. Lastly, Brewmaster IPA is simple and dry, easy-going with just an edge of grapefruit but nothing more intense than that. I expected a bigger kick from its 5.5% ABV.

Clearly there has been no attempt to blow socks off with this lot, but I can see how a publican, looking for something unchallenging for the regulars, might consider re-badging one or more of these.

It was my first time meeting the owner of Ballykilcavan Brewing, currently under construction in Laois, with beers brewed using their own malt at Kildare Brewing, for the moment. Brickyard Red is where I started, copper coloured and a light 4% ABV. It's fairly plain fare, leaning heavily on the dry and toasty-roasty side. New for the festival was Long Meadow IPA, with a candyfloss malt base and a certain lime sharpness -- balanced and easy-going. Pick of the lot was their Irish Hopped Pale Ale, brewed with a variety of varieties, also grown on their own farm. I got a feel of really good pale-and-hoppy English bitter from this: a clean and crisp grain crunch, lemon zest and a dry mineral finish. It's one I could drink a lot of so it's a shame it's so seasonal.

Finally for this opening post, The first set of core beers from Larkin's. I've been following this Wicklow brewery with interest since they first appeared at the RDS festival last autumn. Lager is a speciality and that's why there are four of them in the main six.

My journey started with Larkin's Märzen, which is quite a dark version of the style: a deep orange-amber, resembling an American Oktoberfestbier. It certainly gets its money's worth out of the extra malt, with a huge and sweet biscuit melanoidin foretaste. There's enough noble-hop spinach bitterness to counter it, resulting in a big and bruising, but highly enjoyable, chewer of a lager.

As a palate cleanser afterwards I went for Larkin's Helles. This didn't impress so much. Sure, it looks the part: as clear and gold as you like. The texture is decent, but lacks the soothing ultra-smoothness of really good helles; while the flavour lacks any kind of hop character, or cakey malt, giving just a mild crisp grain crunch. It's serviceable but rather plain: a lager for lager's sake.

I saved Larkin's Baltic Porter until quite late into the festival, even though it is a little weak for the style at 7% ABV.  It's still bang on where flavour is concerned, however: a big liquorice bitterness greets the palate, followed by strong dark chocolate notes. The cool fermentation gives it a superb cleanness and makes it a Baltic porter that's definitely drinkable by the pint, as they should be.

The strongest lager was Larkin's Doppelbock at 7.6% ABV, and this one I found a little too hot and heavy. The deep chestnut red colour is its best feature. The flavour begins on pleasant caramel and hazelnut but they're joined too quickly by hot and cloying esters, making for some tough drinking.

I left the ales to last, starting on Larkin's Pale Ale, which represents a major climbdown in strength at just 4.5% ABV. It's a pale and hazy bright orange colour and exudes a massive jaffa orange aroma. The bitterness is very low, its flavour going instead for a sherbet-like spritz and zest. It's very modern-tasting, though without resorting to sickly vanilla or leaving any nasty yeast residue in the taste. Perhaps most amazingly, it's all done with Cascade hops, I'm told.

Larkin's IPA brings us home. This has a pure haze-craze appearance: smoothie to the point of soupy. The aroma follows up this suggestion of New Englandism with a mix of juicy peach and acidic spinach. On tasting that becomes soft honeydew melon followed by a buzz of garlic or spring onion, set on a smooth body. Where one might expect the claggy sweetness to kick in there's just a long and satisfying proper hop bitterness, lasting late into the finish. These two are quite a switch from the super-traditional lagers, but also a very pleasant one.

More new beers from Alltech next, though this time from more familiar producers.

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