29 June 2018

Late to the party

This is day eight of Indie Beer Week 2018 and I'm rounding off my series of posts with the beers I discovered during the week itself.

I'm picking things up where I left them yesterday with Praetorian, new from YellowBelly and as far as I know exclusive to its beer club subscribers. "Polaris hopped blueberry weizen" is the unlikely style statement, and it's 5% ABV. It looks like a smoothie, pouring a murky dark purple hue, without a proper weissbier head. There's not much aroma, while the flavour is odd and perfumed: a mix of miscellaneous spices and non-specific fruit. There's a sharpness which could be attributed to the berries, but nothing that really says blueberry flavour. On the other side it's a weissbier by texture for sure, but that's it. I get the Polaris, though: a sharp herbal mint. So one out of three. For all the wowee craft innovation it's quite a plain beer, a lot less interesting than any standard weizen you care to name.

That backed up my notion that weissbier isn't one of the traditional styles amenable to craft hacking, a prejudice which was further confirmed by Lemondrop, just released by Carrig Brewing. The hacking is apparently no more than dry hopping with the titular hop and Denali, but my pint arrived clear and gold in a straight-sided glass, the attempt at a big weiss head making it look like an underfilled pint of lager. The mere 4.6% ABV is further evidence of inauthenticity, but it really kicks in from the aroma: sweet and sticky like a lemon meringue pie. The flavour is pretty much the same, adding a touch of banana foam sweets. The whole thing is weird and artificial. Contrived; and bound to upset any Germans who come to Bar Rua looking for a weissbier. This experiment didn't work out.

Staying in that pub, owner Carrig's other new guy was Basil Blast, a gold-coloured Centennial and Simcoe pale ale of 5.5% ABV, with a purported large helping of basil in the whirlpool. There's definitely something other than the usual in here, but I'd swear it was ginger: that slightly woody, chewy, spice you tend to get from real fresh ginger. It certainly shouts over the hopping, and I am assured that no ginger was involved in the recipe. There is a slight herbal tang on the tail, but it's not the oily green richness of real basil. A dry and tannic finish complements the spicing. This is definitely a refreshing beer, and was much appreciated on a warm sunny afternoon; it's just a little confusing.

Around the corner, last Friday, Stephen Street News hosted the third beer release from Liam, aka Dead Centre Brewing: Seeking Sunshine IPA. He kindly donated a can for me to bring home where I drank it in the last rays of Sunday's sun. It's 5% ABV and brewed with Citra and Amarillo, pouring a pale yellow shade with little head. The aroma is quite dank and funky, though with a little bit of juice thrown in. Its flavour, then, is disappointingly savoury, piling in the caraway taste I associate most with Mosaic-gone-awry. There is a faint juiciness as well on the very end, a tantalising echo of mandarin, hinting at what this could have been without all the honking caraway. The texture is nicely full thanks to the oats in the grist, and the carbonation is low enough to make it easy drinking. It's still a passable IPA, but in need of punching up, I think.

I covered Third Barrel's goings-on on Tuesday. Their last-minute contribution to the week, in UnderDog yesterday, was Juice Bigalow. And yes: juice. Big juice. Mega juice. It opens on a giant bag of mandarins, rendered extra juicy by an effervescent sherbet quality. There's bitter kick on the end, a growing dankness, a metallic tang and... waaaait a minute: this bears a striking resemblance to Tuesday's sensation Two Yards, from the same brewery for someone else. Is it wrong of me to suspect this is a very small variation on it? Very small? It doesn't matter either way to me: I get great beer regardless. Pleasingly full-bodied at a super-sessionable 4.1% ABV, it's properly complex and juicy as all hell. You can call it what you like, sure. (And I am completely wrong to be suspicious; see comments).

Fresh from Whiplash is Shades of Marble double IPA, at the standard Whiplash ABV of 8%, hopped with Galaxy, Vic Secret and Lemondrop, and both looking and smelling like pineapple juice. There's a bit of yeast grit in with the tropical fruit, though that doesn't come through in the flavour. It's still pretty soupy-tasting, however: glutinous floury protein blocking any hop brightness. There's a green veg foretaste, then the bitter liquorice of Vic Secret, and a buzz of alcohol. It's all a bit harsh and unfinished-tasting for my liking, and yes I know that's the style. Clean this one up and it would be very decent.

I finally got to tick off the last of the Hopfully trilogy brewed for the Klaw restaurants (you can find the other two here). Auntie Arthur's is a porter, modestly strong at 4.8% ABV. The presentation was poor: a dirty glass leading to dodgy head retention, but that didn't interfere with the flavour. There's a light and easy-going chocolate foretaste, followed by medium roast and a slightly metallic tang on the end. A long aftertaste brings endless cups of strong filter coffee. This is dry rather than creamy, yet still full-bodied. Solid; by-the-numbers. It went very well with my sweet and spicy prawn poke.

Hopfully also released a new seasonal, described as a "white India Pale Lager" and named California Uncommon. This has the pale and hazy appearance of a witbier but puts delicious fresh and juicy peaches at the front of the flavour. The expected herbal spicing comes after, a little jarring at first but settling out to rosemary and lemon zest, like a slightly adventurous stuffing. While not particularly lager-like with all this going on, it is at least clean and devoid of unpleasant yeast interference. You could just consider it a decent pale ale and be happy with that.

Rascals came out with a sequel to last year's Strawberry Vanilla Shake IPA in the form of Raspberry Sundae IPA. While the former did manage to preserve a considerable proportion of its IPA character, this one throws it all up in the air and runs away giggling. It tastes exactly like raspberry ripple ice cream, warming to lean more towards a jam-and-cream spongecake. There's a certain beery bitterness buried right at the back, and a touch of actual hop flavour on the reflux, but otherwise this is all dessert. It's clean and drinkable despite this: fun, silly and hard to dislike.

A late-evening call to The Hill in Ranelagh yielded a pint of Dolmen. This whiskey-barrel stout is from Western Herd, a Clare brewery whose wares are rarely seen in these parts. It's 7.6% ABV and sweet without tasting hot. Black cherry is at the centre, laced with coconut cream around the edges and given a dusting of cocoa. But there was something else, something not part of the confection construction, and it took me a while to figure it out. Autolysis. A jarring meaty flavour -- Bovril or gravy -- that hovers in the background and comes to the fore at the very end. It's too late to spoil anything, but it does take the shine off an otherwise calm and balanced beer.

Here endeth the week's festivities, for this blog at least. Got your plan ready for the closing weekend of IBW18? Good.

28 June 2018

The Belly-go-round

Feels like a while since my last YellowBelly reviews so here's a multi-beer Indie Week catch-up.

It begins with Yellowbeard, a 7% ABV  IPA with added pineapple. Though a murky orange colour, it's no fruit smoothie, showing loads of dank and resinous hops up front, with just a lacing of tropical fruit around the edges.  It's enjoyable but I think I would have preferred it as a straight-up IPA: the pineapple is distracting and, as is so often the case, doesn't actually add anything useful to the beer. I'm blaming the pineapple for the unfortunate dishwater aroma too. Just as I was in danger of thinking that fruit in pale ales was acceptable, along comes one to remind me it isn't. Thanks Yellowbeard!

Throwing a welcome two fingers at seasonality, this was followed with Captain's Table oatmeal stout. I'm fairly take-it-or-leave-it with these usually; there's frequently a putty flavour that I don't care for. Happily it was completely absent in this (yes, I now write about what beers don't taste like) and instead there were lots of classic plain stout signifiers: a soft foamy head atop a pure black body, a strong flavour of dark chocolate of the high-cocoa variety in the minimalist wrapper, and an almost astringent espresso-like roasted bitterness. Everything is turned up to 11, except the ABV which chugs along merrily at 5%. This is a high-grade, no-nonsense, quaffing stout. An excellent antidote to all them fancy beers you get these days.

And speaking of which, that went on tap in UnderDog at the same time as Hammertime , another fruited IPA (passionfruit this time) and again running at 7% ABV. Passionfruit normally tastes like passionfruit in beer, but this tastes orangey. It looks it too: bright and opaque, the citrus effect enhanced by the rounded glass. There's an off-putting sweaty tang to the jaffas in the aroma, while the flavour is sweet, like orange jelly, both of the dessert variety and the sugared candies too. By way of complexity I got a side note of raspberry jam and a dusting of chocolate. Crucially there's no punch here; no bitter tang, and it's not even juicy. I found the whole thing, while not actively nasty, just too sweet and lacking in IPA character.

And this space was reserved for Praetorian, the second beer in the brewery's Beer Club series. But logistical difficulties mean it hasn't arrived yet and will have to wait until my attention turns to the 'Belly once more. I'm sure it won't be long. Sit tight. Afternoon edit: It just landed. Review tomorrow

27 June 2018

Indie and Urban

Indie Beer Week continues with a return visit to hyperactive Dublin brewpub Urban Brewing to see what strange novelties they have for me this time.

There's a rosé theme to the off-kilter offerings, beginning with Pink Peppercorn Weisse, and this one's not even that off-kilter. It's an easy-going 5% ABV and a sunny witbier yellow colour. The banana aroma brings us straight to Bavaria, however. Banana continues in the flavour, except after a second or two there's a sudden jolt of spices. It's not out of keeping with how some weissbier yeasts add clove and nutmeg notes, though the pronounced sharpness tells me it's really down to the peppercorns. I was pleasantly surprised by how well the two elements complement each other -- peppercorns and weissbier is not a combination I thought would work. The whole thing makes for a decently refreshing summer weisse, still wholesome and classic despite the twist.

That was followed by Hibiscus Wheat, and this one was at least glaringly pink coloured. The ABV goes up to 5.5% and the weissbier character remains: clove spicing and lighter banana this time. A light cherry candy character is all the hibiscus contributes to the flavour and the end result is quite a plain tasting effort with the bright plumage its most interesting feature.

A plain old dubbel next, titled Belgian Forest. Except this one leaves the style's norms far behind. It's only 5.5% ABV, for one thing, and a murky orange rather than rich brown; the colour of a long-abandoned cup of milky tea. Caramel makes up the aroma, while the flavour offers an odd mix of apple, damson and mixed berries. It tastes purple. That, along with the name, suggests that there has been a fruit addition, but I saw no indication of that written anywhere. I deem this one confusing but not unpleasant. The various flavours would work if it were bigger, darker and more serious. Y'know, like a dubbel.

Last up, the unexcitingly named Barrel Aged Sour. Oh, except there's another surprise in store here: it's very exciting. It took a while to get to as it was on a portable tap behind the counter (quite possibly still is) and a gas tank had to be located and hooked up to it. I understand some other punters weren't afforded the same level of service later that weekend. It poured a medium orange colour, exuding a sweet and spicy aroma. The flavour brings the oak first -- winey cork and smooth vanillins -- before settling into sumptuous and juicy peach and grape. It's all very soft and sweet, with a charming funked-up maturity. Not sour, not sharp nor crisp; it's calm and refined, like a cool Fino sherry. The complexity and poise here are first rate and I really hope it's merely the first in a long line of expertly aged beers from the basement barrelstore.

Another day and another brewery to catch up on tomorrow.

26 June 2018

Who wants some?

I've not visited the Third Barrel Brewery, but outbound traffic must be brisk, what with three in-house brands to keep stocked, plus numerous proxy arrangements for other beer makers. In my second post for Indie Beer Week 2018, I'm going to be looking at a varied handful of beers from the D12 brewer.

You rarely have to wait long for something hoppy, and the latest in that line under their own labels is Shut Up Juice pale ale. It's a dense opaque orange colour, 5% ABV and primed with Citra, Vic Secret, El Dorado and Simcoe hops, promising a smörgåsbord of citrus and tropical flavours. Juice is to the fore in the aroma but the flavour is more severe — sharply acidic lemon and lime plus a strong hit of yeast, almost to the point of tasting smoky. There's a great beer under here but I think it came out a bit rough and rushed.

Subsidiary brand Third Circle released a wholly unexpected golden English bitter recently, named AK, which turned up on cask at UnderDog. Bang on at 3.8% ABV and absolutely bang on with its waxy bitter opener — almost Landlordesque. There's a more modern lemon rind kick lightening the mood a little after that, and then it all fades away quickly, ready for another sup. Served a little cooler, somewhere with an outdoors option, it would be a summer belter, and the sort of beer no Irish brewery makes any more. As-was, it was still pretty authentic tasting, and much better than most of what goes through the pumps at Irish Wetherspoons.

I was also happy to chance upon Third Circle's Our Daily Brett at The Beer Market, having missed out on the event where it first appeared. This is another 3.8%-er, and a hazy pale orange. There's a highly perfumed aroma: sweet jasmine and heavier incense. The attractive exotic smell turns to a full-on musk on tasting, loaded with woody resins, all sandalwood and cedar. There's a slight peach tang, injecting a little sweetness, though it doesn't have the gummy thickness that often comes with Brett-derived fruit notes. An unfortunate savoury yeast twang sounds a bum note towards the end. It finishes quickly, entirely in keeping with the low ABV. This is decent, and cleaned up it would be superb.

Moving to the client brewers, but keeping that UK vibe alive, here's C'mere T'eme (should be "T'me", surely?), the second release by Crafty Bear Brewing. Though badged as an amber ale, I had it on cask at The Black Sheep and that very much turned it into a dark English bitter. It's smooth and fantastically tannic. Behind the tea there's an exotic spicing of sandalwood, frankincense and peppercorns. If it stopped there, it would be another great one, but the tannins just keep building out of control, becoming harshly astringent by the end. It was frustrating to see it just miss the mark, but it's an experiment worthy of repeating.

Established client brewer Two Sides has teamed up with Brickyard for two Third-Barrel-brewed offerings so far. The first is Two Sides's second coffee porter, called Bricks & Porter. It's on the high side for a pintable sessioner at 5.5% ABV but makes good use of the extra legroom to pack in loads of milk chocolate and coffee notes, with a sweet dash of hazelnut adding an extra, complementary, dimension. The texture is creamy and yet the body is light. A rock-solid coffee porter, and ideal if you value sweetness over dry and bitter roast.

Finally, for the sort-of heatwave we're currently going through, Two Yards, a 4.3% ABV session IPA. Details are scarce, but it's hella juice-looking and hella juice-tasting, beginning on real oranges and then calming down and thinning out to more of an orangeade thing on the end. In the middle there's a bright floral jasmine spice as well as a mild hit of alium and a naughty buzz of dankness as well. It's extremely satisfying when a beer packs all of this into just a light and easy-drinking package. Maybe there's something to this collaborative brewing lark after all.

The Indie Beer Week posts continue with more Dublin beers tomorrow.

25 June 2018

Look around you

Indie Beer Week is upon us! Events kicked off on Friday and run through next weekend too. Have a look at the calendar to see what's happening in your part of the country. I did my bit locally on Saturday by visiting the new Porterhouse brewery, and all week I'll be blogging about Irish beer, starting with this rag-tag assortment of random samples.

The second in Rye River's Limited Edition Series was Miami J, a New England IPA. At the launch event in 57 The Headline, head brewer Bill talked us through the process, one involving Citra, Galaxy, Mosaic, Lemondrop and Amarillo, with all the bitterness derived from the whirlpool. It's up to you to actually find the bitterness, of course: the first flavour I got was a huge and juicy pineapple. There's a slightly slick and gummy vanilla note after this, which is also the dominant characteristic of the aroma, and is possibly the beer's weakest aspect but entirely in keeping with the style. The finish is grassy and just a little hot, reflecting honestly the 6.5% ABV. Overall it's spot-on for the style and largely lacking in flaws and imbalances. If you like your IPAs sweet and juicy get some of this, and soon.

Staying canned and juicy, the newest one from Whiplash at time of writing is called Clap Hands. It describes itself as an American wheat beer, a style that used to mean something quite specific: wheat-based beer fermented out with neutral ale yeast. That has all but been abandoned by the brewing industry now, Carlow Brewing's Curim being the only extant example I can think of. "American" now means highly hopped, and this employs a tropical supergroup of Mosaic, El Dorado and Lemondrop. It pours a milky opaque orange colour with only a short-lived head. The aroma is fabulously juicy from the get-go, however: an enticing swirl of mango and passionfruit with just a cheeky seasoning of garlic. The flavour continues largely along those lines, emphasising the savoury side a little more as the yeast bite kicks in, but but placing the hops front and centre, displaying fresh and zingy juice alongside a sharper herbal bitterness. This is all done at only 5.2% ABV, which means it's expensive at over €5 a can, but if you have the money, buy a couple and drink them side-by-side. More from Whiplash later in the week.

Along still similar lines is Five, the lowest alcohol offering in Rascals's 759 series. This popped up at the spritz festival organised by Wallace Winebars in the Millennium Walkway last month. It's a pleasant balanced chappie, covering what's expected from the flavour profile, with a garlicky hop burn contrasting with softer vanilla. I thought it had a lot in common with Trouble Brewing's excellent Ambush pale ale, though it's perhaps a touch punchier and less fruity. Very decent, though. Bring on the Nine!

Then I was completely wrong-footed by the second beer from Martin's Off Licence's 40th anniversary series. The Portrait Project Juicy IPA was brewed at Hope with collaborative input from DOT, and the name implied it would be hazy. But no! It poured from the can a clear dark gold. The aroma isn't exactly juicy: there's the invigorating sharpness of fresh American C-hops. The flavour is in the middle. It's dank and resinous: herbal, finishing bitter; but there's a New England thickness to it, and a layer of milkshake vanilla and spun sugar. I don't think "juicy" is the appropriate word. "Sweet" would probably do. Overall it's OK: nothing is really distinctive about it and it falls into line with a hundred other modern IPAs. In its favour it's only 5% ABV, so no nasty hotness. An ah-yeah-grand sort of juicy IPA.

But if you really want to go trend-chasing, how about Ireland's first brut IPA? I had genuinely never heard of this sub-style before Black's of Kinsale made one, and I still couldn't tell you the name of the archetype. What I do know is that Black's SuperDry is 6.5% ABV and showed up on tap in 57 The Headline on June bank holiday weekend. The hazy pale orange colour was normal enough, but the taste is weird. Yeasty grit was the first thing to come out, then a loud spicy and floral jasmine or hibiscus thing. After a moment that settled into a genuine Champagne flavour: white grape and toast, building gradually in sweetness until it's more like a Muscat. Once I'd had a good walk around that, turned it over and kicked it a bit, I decided it wasn't really for me. There's not enough proper hopping to it, and despite the complexity, that basic yeast dirt never really goes away. Still, I guess I'd better brace myself for more of these.

Belgian IPA, another twist on that genre, is a tricky style. The Americans tend to do it well; the Belgians struggle a bit. How would the Irish get on? This is Immram from The White Hag, a touch light on the style spec at 6.8%. It smells plenty full, though: a powerfully sweet peach and mango effect. Caraway creeps in in the flavour, as well as a severe plasticky bitterness. The Belgian esters are just about apparent but aren't the dominant feature, yet neither is there the fresh bright zing of the American hops. My biggest gripe is the carbonation: it's rather flat, which contributes to the overall sticky and sickly cloying effect. I can see the beer this is meant to be but it has come out a bit too rough and unready for my liking. Raging Bitch has nothing to worry about.

My one nod to the north comes in the form of Hillstown's The Crazy Horse double IPA, opened and shared round by Sean at UnderDog one evening. This leaves no one in any doubt about its 8.5% ABV: it's hot and heavy. From the dark ochre body arises a soupy yeast aroma infused with high-octane sherry and marker pens. The flavour adds an unsubtle metallic bitterness to this, though there is some token gentility in the hints of coconut. Overall, though, it's round, unfinished and quite amateur tasting. Definitely not in the same league as most Irish double IPAs these days.