16 April 2018

More more more!

I genuinely had only closed off my last Irish beer round-up, and was some way from publishing it, when I started work on this next one. Kinnegar was first to pop into view, with a pair of new additions.

And when I say new, I mean new. Merrytiller dry-hopped saison had been bottled the day before I bought it in the Mace on South Circular. Foolishly I put it in a glass with an etched base, meaning I immediately had a cascade of foam to contend with. When that subsided a little, I was able to get a proper sniff and found a pleasing, easy-breezy, lemon aroma. There's the standard crisp grain of a saison, tasting not overly heavy despite the substantial 5.2% ABV. On top of the malt there's sharp melon rind and soft elderflower -- not unusual for the style -- but then a harsh, bitter soap-like twang which I'm blaming on the dry-hopping and really drains the merriness from the Merrytiller. I thought I might get used to it, that the initial shock would fade, but even at the end of the glass, the twang remained.

Cinch is number seven in the Kinnegar sour series and it's back to basics here. This is the unadorned base beer that they use for the various other versions, and I was keen to try it. It pours quite a dense milky orange-yellow shade, with only a brief head. The texture is light and thirst-quenching and the flavour mixes chalky minerals, light fruit candy and some thicker vanilla and banana. A spark of fresh pineapple twinkles sweetly at the front, while a buzz of rocky nitre hangs around in the finish. There are echoes of lambic, gose, Berliner weisse and various other sour cousins, and it definitely shares the clean and invigorating qualities that have made people want to produce these beers down through the ages. It's an ur-sour, so to speak, and very refreshing to boot.

Beer 5 in the O'Hara's Hop Adventure Series arrived and the brewery kindly sent me a bottle. Hop Adventure Eureka brings us to the US for the first time. It's the normal clear gold colour and the usual 5% ABV, though the lacklustre head makes it seem a little flat. There's not much of an aroma, just a mild grain husk. The flavour... well, there's not much fresh hop. My first and lasting impression is of cheese and onion crisps: the same mix of salt, fried onion and funky mature cheddar. It's not awful, just... weird. Citrus, stone fruit and pine are the claims made on the label. I don't get those at all. As usual for the series, this one is light-bodied and easy-going, but it really lacks hop distinctiveness beyond the weird Tayto thing.

Staying with the old guard of Irish independents, The Porterhouse followed up its Winter Stout with Porterhouse Plain Export. The ABV is identical, at 6.5% ABV, but I don't think it's a straightforward rebadge. While the Winter Stout was all dark fruit and chocolate, this one is harder and bitterer, with a perfume twang on the end. It pulls off the classic Porterhouse trick of brewing in enough flavour to punch through the dulling effects of nitrogenation. The result is a thumping beast of stout, uncompromising and flavourful.

The Taphouse Celebrates series had its first beer event of the year just before Easter when Rascals brought a selection of their wares to Ranelagh for the night. I was there for a second go at the Chardonnay Sparkling Ale, which is still magnificent, and to catch up with Rascals Imperial Stout which I missed at the Alltech festival. The brewery is quite fashion-conscious when it comes to styles and recipes, so it was a surprise to find that this is a dead straight, well-rendered, modestly strong (9% ABV) imperial stout. Coffee roast is the main feature, all freshly brewed filter in the aroma, turning to stronger and bitterer ristretto in the flavour. It has the slick feel of a concentrated coffee too, and the bitterness fades just enough to allow softer high-cocoa dark chocolate notes creep through. This is novelty-free, serious and delicious. It would fit well into their core line-up.

Obviously the lack of gimmickry couldn't last, and the night also featured their 2018 Easter special Chocolate Marshmallow Stout, served with real marshmallows floating in it. Though a lighter 7.5% ABV and including chocolate in the recipe, this had a lot in common with the Imperial. There's a dry coffee roast mixed in with the milky sweetness that does a great job balancing it. The floating confections were entirely uncalled-for, however. I have my limits.

To YellowBelly next, and three new releases landing in quick succession in recent weeks. The first was Now In Session, a session IPA at 4.6% ABV. It's a dense-looking deep orange colour, and features orange in a big way in the flavour. I got candied peel first, followed by a sweet and fruity Fanta vibe. Flowers and spices, rather than true bitterness, back this up: jasmine and honeysuckle. Though it can't be accused of being thin or watery, I found it leaning a little too much the other way: heavy, and increasingly so as it warms. I'm certainly not the first to point out that designing "session beer" isn't just about the strength.

The others I picked up in canned form, starting with Kottbusser, a Kotbusser. The recipe was adapted from Ron Pattinson's Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer and it was brewed as a collaboration with BrewDog, the previous owner of the YellowBelly brew kit. The style is a sour wheat beer and they've stamped their terroir on it by adding local blackcurrants and Scottish heather honey. From the bright purple colour I expected the fruit to be fully in charge of the flavour, but strangely it's the honey that comes first, tasting very floral and very real and adding a waxy quality to the aroma. The sour wheat base kicks in next, not that different from a straight-up Berliner weisse, the light and quenching texture providing no indication that it's 6.2% ABV. The currants are barely noticeable, adding only a tiny bit of their flavour to the finish. It's a fun beer, and worth it for the honey richness alone. Pairing that with a lactic sour bite was inspired. I'm not sure how relevant the historical German style is to the whole picture, but I guess it's another point of interest. I'd like to see more commercial brewers making use of Ron's work -- just don't forget to drop him a few quid for his trouble.

Its companion is another 4.6% ABV session IPA, called It's Elementary, promising Chinook and Simcoe. It popped with tropical hops as soon as the can was opened, though it took me a while to pour because of the hyperactive foam. A similar hazy orange colour as Now In Session, it shares its big body and candy sweetness. However, the hops do a much better job of balancing this one: it's bitterer, with a generous lacing of sharp citrus in with the fresh and fleshy ripe tropical fruit. It's also cleaner, and doesn't clag the way the other one did. A refreshing and breezy floral waft finishes it off. This one is definitely sessionable, being nicely balanced and showing an interesting variety of flavours in a modestly strong package.

Whiplash has been busy on the international circuit lately. I find out about its new beers via bars and festivals in the UK, France and the Netherlands. It's a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. Swoon double IPA eventually made it to DrinkStore whence I acquired a can. In keeping with modern fashion, it pours an opaque orangey-beige and smells juicy and spicy. Between this and the 8% ABV I was anticipating one of those garlic-and-booze bombs, but it's not. Chinook and Vic Secret are the hops involved, and the latter's signature mix of tropical fruit and liquorice is the centrepiece. Juice isn't really a part of the picture and there's a proper hit of grapefruit bitterness in the finish. I also picked up a savoury, dreggy yeast bite in the aftertaste, but this is a very minor bug in the system. This tastes fresh, bright and bold, making excellent use of the substantial hop charge while hiding its strength well. A reminder that those awful-looking beers frequently taste delicious.

Also on a double IPA kick was O Brother, with the release of The Mad Hatter, another 8%-er. It's an innocent orange-gold colour, but thickly textured and syrupy, without the booze heat. The flavour leans heavily to the savoury side, beginning on tangy red onion but turning rawer and harsher as it goes, adding caraway seed and tahini. I get what they're trying to do, and this is all probably as the brewery intended, but the recipe is screaming out for either some tropical fruit to liven it or a sharper bitterness to counteract the syrup.

And finally, The White Hag added a mid-strength IPA to their line-up in the form of Ninth Wave, 5.4% ABV, which I found on draught at P. Mac's. Right from the first sip it has a lot in common with the brewery's iconic Little Fawn, and I suspect that the same Mosaic magic has been wrought over it. A massive juicy outpouring of mango and mandarin opens it, and then keeps going. It's bright, clean and thirst-quenching, though does show a slightly chemical fabric-softener perfume on the end if you look for it. While I really enjoyed my pint, I couldn't help wonder what  the point of this is when Little Fawn already exists.

I think I may have been mistaken when I suggested there wouldn't be as many new Irish beers this year...

1 comment:

  1. Professor Pie-Tin5:15 pm

    Oooh,it's almost like I was psychic.
    Sadly the howling gale outside my window suggests winter has got one last sting in the tail.
    And I've already turned the AGA off.I make the same mistake every year.