06 April 2018

Spring flowers

There was a sudden abundance of new Irish beers in March. Presumably the run-up to the national holiday had something to do with that, as well as a couple of festivals to which I'll dedicate later posts. This one is about the random new beers I found in the pubs and off licences.

And also in breweries. I paid my first visit to Rye River in Celbridge at the invitation of the company. On the roster was the first in a limited edition series of high-end beers, going for that super-premium 440ml can segment. First out is a Belgian Imperial Stout. Brewer Bill described the style as a sort of hybrid, somewhere between a normal imperial stout and a quadrupel. I got that 100% from the flavour: smooth warming banana meeting bitter and roasty espresso, though the two never fully meld. I like the way it maintains elements of both, letting you enjoy two beers at once. With a relatively modest 8.2% ABV it doesn't overdo things either. In a world where pastry stouts are ever more commonplace, it's perhaps lacking a little in wow, but I suspect that may come with a bit of ageing. I certainly put one of my complimentary cans into the stash. Thanks to the team at Rye River for the evening out.

An afternoon excursion to Alfie Byrne's yielded no fewer than three new beers from Hope. Two were from their own Limited Edition series, now up to 9 and 10 respectively.

9 is Hope Vienna Oatmeal IPA. I expected something quite dark but it's definitely yellow, and a little hazy with it. There's a decent head, of course, from which emerges a pleasingly weedy fresh hop aroma. The texture is a little watery and I think that has affected the flavour detrimentally. You get a bitter kick at the front, and then an acidic afterburn tailing off, but no middle where the hop fruit, or resins, or whatever, ought to be. It's fine but forgettable, tasting like an average session IPA rather than its full 5% ABV with proper malt credentials.

Its fraternal twin is Flat White Stout, this one at 6% ABV, a collaboration with Upside Coffee of Fairview. There's lots of roast in the flavour but specific coffee notes are scarce, at least at first. The sense of coffee is really only engendered by the creamy texture, and maybe a touch of brown sugar sweetness. It takes a minute or two for the coffee bean oils to make their presence felt, and they're at no point excessive, adding an extra layer to the mouthfeel, as well as a warming rich coffee flavour. I liked how, despite the added ingredient and gimmicky name, it never loses sight of being a basically good stout, just one that happens to have some coffee in it.

Last of this trilogy is a contract brew: Brethren Brown from the Midlands Beer Collective. It seems, from nowhere, that everyone's making brown ales these days. Expect more in subsequent posts. This one is a monster 6.7% ABV and a clear red-amber colour, rather than brown. It's surprisingly dry for a big, dark beast, opening with light plum and raisin before turning floral and then full-on bitter. The finish is quite acrid, mixing punchy hops with the sharp bitterness of roasted grains. It's all a bit severe for my liking; brown ale, even with an American twist like this, should be softer with more of a sweet malt character. And browner too.

Moving across town to The Black Sheep next, a pub I've been making much more use of since they introduced live tap listing. It was the first place I noticed Galway Bay's latest: Hearts & Feints, a Citra-forward double IPA which acts as a companion to Weights + Measures session IPA, as reviewed last month. It looks similar: pale yellow and very murky. The aroma is a beautiful medley of funk and citrus: limes and weed. The body is appropriately full given the 8.5% ABV, and there's an eye-popping juiciness right from the first sip. I was reminded of the first time I drank Of Foam & Fury, in the same pub over four years ago. So much so I ordered a taster for comparison. The elder statesman of Irish DIPA is paler and drier than it used to be, much bitterer than this fruity and dank young pretender. Even at identical strengths in the same style they make for a fun contrast. I definitely prefer the hop fireworks of Hearts & Feints, however.

Over on the cask array, one could be treated to the rare spectacle of a cask Berliner weisse in a dimple mug. O Brother's The Whippersnapper  is the beer in question, just 4% ABV and dry-hopped with Amarillo. The cask had been on a few days, and I never got to try it kegged, so I'm not sure if what follows is a description of what it was supposed to be. I liked it, though. The sourness was very mild, almost unnoticeable, and there was a beautiful soft and zingy lemon sherbet quality. The light melt-in-your-mouth candy effect was definitely aided by the effervescent texture and I'd imagine wouldn't stand up to full carbonation. My overall impression was of a pale 'n' hoppy modern English bitter, a sunny beer garden refresher. It's something I'm very much on board for. Berlin can wait.

Back over to the keg taps next for a YellowBelly. Diamond Heist is 5.3% ABV and described by the brewery as a "Belgian style pale ale". I wasn't sure what I was going to get. My pint arrived a deep orange colour with very little head. On tasting... woah, that's Belgian! It has all the fruit and spice of Duvel: banana, orange, clove and nutmeg. This is set on a wholesome rye-bread base and finishing tannic, like sweet black tea. Maybe its the acrobatic complexity, but this tastes much stronger than it is, which is fun: you can pretend you're in Belgium being decadent, even when you're only necking a quick pint.

The White Hag launched their collaboration beer with Norway's Haandbryggeriet last month. Hag & Haand is a barrel-aged apricot pale ale with Brettanomyces and I caught up with it at P. Mac's. It's just as well that 75cl is the main format for this one because I don't think it's quite finished. It's extremely fruit forward, to the point of tasting like a jam or jelly. There's a thick texture to match, giving an impression of real ripe apricot. Just an edge of the oak shows through, sappy and bitter, not mixing well with the sweet side. That flashes only briefly before we're back to the stonefruit again. The Brett funk is more apparent in the aroma than the flavour, and the only other complexity is a slight twist of white pepper. It's one-dimensional; one-and-a-half, tops. But there is lots of sugar for the Brett to chomp through. I think it'll be a year or five before we really find out what this can be.

Where next? UnderDog, of course, and a pint of M-Alt, an Altbier by Third Barrel. This was designed by the brewery's visiting German intern Alex (you can read his recipe here), and was based on Schumacher Alt. It was sweeter than I thought typical of the style, full and fuzzy with lots of warm-fermentation character. Wheat, milk chocolate and melanoidins all feature in my notes, as does strawberry, secondarily. There's a nice and peppery noble hop bite but it lacks the matured lagered cleanness of the real thing. This is serviceable, but sailed too close to an Irish red ale for my comfort.

The pub round-up finishes in 57 The Headline with a glass of the new Trouble Brewing double IPA Space Juice. "DDH", of course. As perhaps implied by the name, it's a weird creature, where the first sip brought a bizarre clash of tropical fruit, vanilla, yeast twang and a metallic bitterness. All very unsettling and impossible to relax with. At its centre there's boozy over-ripe peach, reflecting the 8.2% ABV. The smoothness and the sweetness hint that something like an imperial version of Ambush was the intent here, but it's too hot, too harsh and not clean enough. It could be it's just a sub-style I don't get, but it's not my kind of beer either way.

New bottled Porterhouse beers are a rarity, though I'm hoping they'll be more commonplace now that the new brewery is up and running. Bounty Hunter is the latest, a chocolate and coconut porter with added lactose. As one might expect, there's lots of coconut. The aroma is husky and toasted; the flavour bringing the chocolate into play as well. For all that, it's surprisingly dry, with a powdery desiccated coconut character. The texture is light as well, and the carbonation low, making for easy drinking, although at 5.2% ABV it should really have a little more heft. You don't get much from the base beer, no hop or grain character to speak of, but then it is meant to be all about the coconut. I wasn't wowed by it the way I was by Independent Coconut Porter last year -- it lacks the sumptuous coconut oils that one displays. It's fine, though. No complaints.

I collected that in DrinkStore, alongside their long-awaited collaboration with Whiplash. It's called Embrace the Daylight and is a Cascadian dark ale of 6.3% ABV, made with four different malts and four American C-hops. It poured out like a milkshake, forming a thick beige-coloured head over a pure black body, while smelling enticingly of lemon, bergamot and bitter herbs. I was poised for something serious but it's actually light and fruity; delightfully so. There's a tangerine juice element, and then some darker stout-like roast, some liquorice, before finishing on a grassy bite from the rye. The finish is quick and it leaves little aftertaste. It's all very well balanced, drawing on both sides of its nature and putting them to good use.

Also from DrinkStore, this one which isn't new but of which I was unaware; in fact I caught it in the last months of its shelf-life. Sour Smack purports to be the first in a limited series from Clonakilty Brewing. The label is otherwise short on information, other than it's 5% ABV and bottle conditioned. I poured carefully but couldn't avoid getting a few gritty bits into my glass, turning the bright orange liquid yellower. There's an enticing aroma of melon, peach and apricot: sweet and juicy with a tart mineral edge. The flavour is very Belgian, with the candied orange and old-world spices found in that nation's best blonde and pale ales. De La Senne's excellent Zinnebir leaps immediately to mind. The sourness is almost missable behind the fresh zest and is no more than what a squeeze of Jif lemon would give you. Rather than puckering your cheeks, the tartness serves merely to accentuate the juice, and it's a noble calling. Lightly textured, softly carbonated and beautifully balanced, this is a thirst-quenching triumph and very worthy of a repeat brew.

Bringing up the rear, New Ireland Beers is a new label by Dean Clarke of distributor Premier International. First out is Savage a pale ale designed by Rossa O'Neill and brewed in Dublin at Hope. It's a bright orange colour with a slight haze. There's a fresh orange candy aroma: enticing chew sweets, bubblegum and Fanta. The flavour is more nuanced, with tangerine rather than jaffa, plus added mango and passionfruit. It has a sufficient bitter greenness and a yeast spicing that almost tips over into an off-flavour but thankfully the hopping is bold enough to hold it back. The texture is very light, even for just 4.8% ABV, and that does make it a little thin. I can see how it would work as a sessionable quaffer however, by the six-pack or pint. Overall a great first effort and I look forward to where New Ireland takes us next.

All these and I still haven't reported on this year's Alltech festival yet. Stand by...

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