11 April 2018

Still rolling

The middle post from Alltech Brews & Food concerns the more familiar brewers, the ones I drink a lot, and now just happen to be drinking them here.

On the first evening there was a tasting for media types where a selection of brewers (and distillers) brought samples to talk about. Aidan from Galway Hooker opened the proceedings with the new Galway Hooker Honey Beer, brewed with locally sourced honey. Though presented as a brown ale it didn't look very brown to me, more a medium amber colour. The aroma was similar to that of a quality pilsner, grassy and floral, making me wonder if that's attributable to the special ingredient. It turns into more of a brown ale on tasting: thickly textured and leading with toffee, followed by wheaty cereal and a crisp roast finish. There are no way-out bells and whistles, and the honey is easily missed, but it's still solid, and doubtless deserving of a bigger sample than I had.

Not to be outdone, Wicklow Wolf also had a honey beer at the gig, this one with added elderflower and brewed with international brewing celebrity Anders Kissmeyer. Wolf Kiss is the name: 6% ABV and a clear darkish gold colour. The aroma was a little off-putting, being funky, with an edge of ammonia or even urine about it. The texture is thin and the flavour intensely sweet, adding up to something that reminded me of plain, straight, white lemonade. A mild peppercorn spice offers some contrast, but overall it just didn't work for me, on any level.

That didn't stop me from heading straight to the Wicklow Wolf bar first thing on the Saturday afternoon. They were also pouring a new-release coffee porter called Black Gold, the fourth beer of that name to feature on this blog, fact fans. This is a bit of a stonker at 7.8% ABV. I'm usually fairly well-disposed to coffee as an ingredient in dark beers, but this takes the complementary flavours to a whole new level. There's a beautiful melding of the two kinds of roast, plus the chocolate from the beer meeting the sweet and oily coffee beans. That leaves a long finish, aided by a gorgeous creamy texture, as well as providing an invigorating pure coffee aroma. Great stuff.

Black's of Kinsale had an impressively long bar, featuring two new sour beers. Both were 4% ABV and, tasting side-by-side, I couldn't pick much difference between them. Solero Passion Fruit should have had a sweet fruit character, but didn't, turning out quite savoury with lots of chalky minerals. Wild Thing, then, tasted like a very basic Berliner weisse, dry and plain, and while perfectly thirst-quenching it has little character beyond that.

That must have left me in the mood for something else sour because my notes go straight to Lough Gill next, and their Sligose oyster and seaweed beer. Top marks, first of all, for a "gose" pun that actually works. It's as pale yellow as one might expect, 5.6% ABV and tasting very witbier-like at first, going big on bittersweet herbs and crunchy wheat. I waited for the sourness to kick in but it never happened, the herbs intensifying to a kind of minty humbug flavour. It's a lovely beer, complex, engaging and tremendous fun. I missed the gose element of the taste, however.

Something more down to earth from the same bar next: Lost Armada, a pale ale. I don't know what hops they used in this but it must have been a lot. It has that raw and leafy quality of pure hops, beyond citrus fruit and into crunchy green veg; al dente sprouts and broccoli. And yet it's not harsh or acidic, showing a balanced bitterness and no more. You can forget about malt though: what's there is purely structural.

I saved the 9.5% ABV barrel-aged barley wine until the end of this visit. Old Coot served its time in a Speyside whisky barrel but to me it tasted of wine: dark and fruity, like black cherries in particular. The aroma is tart and the flavour dry, so no malt-driven sugar-bomb here. The texture, however, is appropriately heavy without turning cloying. A proper Bigfoot-like hop bitterness forms the finish. It's a beer of contrasts, immensely complex and rewarding of considered sipping. Not that that was likely to happen in the midst of a festival like this.

Moving on, I noticed Carrig had a poster up for its Cael & Crede red ale which it bottles for the US market. It's a blousy 6.5% ABV but that's probably the most interesting thing about it. Beyond that it's a fairly simple sweet and sticky, toffee-laden Irish red. I wouldn't be too offended if that's what its demographic thinks Irish people drink.

From the hoppier side of the brewery's whiteboard comes Alexanderplatz, a mid-strength IPA (5.5% ABV) showcasing Mandarina Bavaria hops. It arrived lovely and clear, though the aroma was a little sweaty, giving off the expected oranges but a bit of a funk as well. Unlike most recent Carrig offerings it tastes quite sweet, with a fair whack of gummy vanilla and a lacing of coconut. Thankfully there's just enough bitterness to cover it and the end result is decent and modern, if a little lacking in old-fashioned punch.

A year after their first appearance in Dublin, Bridewell of Cliden were back with a third beer: Festus. The slightly odd formula here is a dark lager recipe brewed with an ale yeast and carrying elements from both. It has the crisp and clean roast of a schwarzbier, and some funky hop resins: Mandarina at work again. The ale side of the equation is in the texture, a certain greasy fullness as you'd find in some English dark ales. It's pleasant and would certainly do in a pinch if one is stuck in Connemara craving mid-European black beer.

The other western brewery with a new beer with a short name was Reel Deel, bringing Recon. This is a brown ale (fashionably unfashionable!), all of 6.5% ABV, due in some part at least to time spent in Connemara Whiskey barrels. It really blends the two sides beautifully: all the sumptuous chocolate of a smooth and chewy brown ale overlaid with the bright meadow honey of good Irish whiskey. The texture is suitably thick and the finish long and warming. A gorgeous celebration of malt, all-in-all.

I think Boyne Raspberry Sour is my first sour beer from the Drogheda brewery. It's 4.9% ABV, bright pink and going all out for the fruit, very much at the expense of the sourness. "Hot jam" say my notes, meaning it has all the taste of the sugar and the raspberry seeds. I'm reminded of the fruit-heavy sour beers Open Gate has been brewing. Maybe there's a market for this sort of thing -- all those Belgian brewers can't be wrong -- but I can't help feeling nobody wants to actually brew beer like this.

Between Black Gold and Recon I thought I had picked my top beers of the gig, but on one of my last circuits I noticed the Chardonnay Sparkling Ale, tucked away at a right angle on the Rascals bar. Wow. I found it hard to believe this started out as Happy Days session IPA: the barrel really did a number on it, beginning at the striking champagne aroma, all light toast and dry white grapes. The flavour is a bit more lary, bringing floral bathroom-cabinet lavender, chamomile and jasmine, though there's also more subtle and classy wine tannin too. Despite the big flavours it's very refined, reminding me in particular of DOT Brew's magnificent Champagne Beer from 2016. And like that one, it seems like a beer that won't be around long. Grab it while you can -- this Saturday at UnderDog would be a start.

One more spin around the Convention Centre to come on Friday.

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