16 July 2018

Summer specials

Time for another round-up of random Irish beers that came my way in recent weeks.

Lough Gill joined the line-up in Aldi with Native IPA, brewed to celebrate the Lakota heritage of head brewer Tony. The label advertises that it's quite a dark affair, and indeed it is: a murky garnet colour, topped with an old-ivory head. This isn't one of your hop-driven IPAs, or at least not flavourwise: it is plenty bitter, though, in a sharply metallic way. That, coupled with a chocolate orange sweetness, low carbonation and a tannic twang, lend it the feel of an English bitter: ironic since it was also brewed to mark the 4th of July. It's not quite as clean as it should be, and I think I may have poured some ill-advised dreggy gunk from the can into the glass. I get a sharp sourness on the finish, almost like a Flanders red, that's quite out of keeping for an IPA and doesn't improve the package any. But it doesn't ruin it either. Anyone expecting a classic US IPA, of any stripe, will be disappointed. I quite liked its old-fashioned stylings, however.

It's all-out for modernity at Galway Bay, with Juice Division, a pineapple and passionfruit IPA of 7.5% ABV. It's a bright opaque orange colour and smells of mixed tropical fruit juice, with the passionfruit taking the lead in that way it generally does. I shouldn't have been surprised to find it so sweet, but sweet it was, and thick too, just like the juice it's aping. For bitterness you need to wait until the very end where there's a bitter tang. There's nothing I could pick out as a specific hop flavour: any that are there are fully camouflaged by the fruit. I came away with the impression that I'd just paid €6.50 for a glass of juice. Mmmpf.

I expected something a little more trad from the follow-up: Polyrhythm, an unadorned IPA of 7.2% ABV brewed in collaboration with little-known east London operator Beavertown. It certainly smells trad: an invigorating waft of pure grapefruit coming from the pale yellow liquid, liquid which is damn near clear too. The flavour then wrongfooted me completely, turning very tropical, with pineapple to the fore. This turns bitter quite quickly, throwing out lime and touch of fried onion. Idaho 7 is the signature hop, one I'm not familiar with, but I can see what the Azacca and Simcoe are doing. The New England influence was hard to spot, but there is a tiny hint of creamy vanilla on the end; not enough to interfere with the punchy hops however. It's a lovely beer: not hot or harsh, nor riddled with yeasty off-flavours. Clean New England IPA is a sub-sub-style I whole-heartedly endorse.

Beers three and four from Dublin client brewer Crafty Bear landed in UnderDog a couple of weeks ago, both IPAs and both 6% ABV. My pint of Gummy arrived a dark hazy orange colour and tasted bready, to begin with: a wholesome crusty chewiness putting me in mind of trad English bitter. There followed a slight tangerine tang; a touch of Fanta sweetness, and then a lightly tannic finish bringing a balancing dryness. I liked its plain unfussiness, a refreshing change from the usual crashing and banging of new Irish IPAs.

Its twin is called Hop Me Baby One More Time. There don't seem to be any details on either of the beers online so I can't tell you what the technical differences are, but this one, while also murky and orange, came across as sweeter, with brighter, fresher citrus fruit. The texture is dense and the sweetness builds as it goes, from real jaffa oranges into jam, jelly and spongecake, and still with that vaguely Kentish vibe. It's fine, but I preferred the gentler tones of the previous one.

These two formed part of UnderDog's first birthday celebrations, as did two new ones from DOT. Pint Please continues the brand's foray into pale and unaged beers, this one finishing at a very modest 3.1% ABV. The opaque milky orange colour and mix of sharp savoury yeast with bright and pithy hops would lead me to describe it as a table beer -- it certainly reminds me of offerings in that style from other brewers. The upshot is a refreshing quaffer with not much up front but a satisfyingly long bitter and tangy finish. Great hot-day refreshment, even in the dim coolness of a windowless basement.

More typically DOT was Brown Coffee Cognac (right of picture), a beer with all the clues in the name, and 7.2% ABV. There's a huge rich and creamy coffee aroma, and that silky sumptuousness continues in the texture and flavour as well. Irish coffee was my first reaction to the taste, before adjusting that, appropriately, to French coffee. The only thing close to a sharp edge in this is a tiny roasted espresso bite in amongst all the mocha in the very finish. This is a fine and complex beer for toffs and dandies.

Rounding out the UnderDog specials, on the left of the shot, a Bourbon Imperial Coffee Stout by Rascals. I presume this is an enhanced version of the imperial stout they had at the Taphouse back in March, though it doesn't seem to have picked up any extra ABV points, still being 9%. There's a bit of a solvent twang to the aroma which wasn't there before, and a sharply bitter flavour of high-cocoa chocolate and strong black coffee. The bourbon booziness is obvious too, with an added oily coconut complexity. It tastes far more than the stated strength and really throws all subtlety and nuance to the wind. This is a real live wire of an imperial stout and would suit some bottled maturation time, though I don't know if the brewery has thoughts in that direction.

Finally for today, my most anticipated beer of the year: Underworld by Black Donkey. This is the end result of a long-drawn-out experiment to harvest wild yeast from a cave near the brewery and turn it into beer. What would the end result of that taste like? Well, like a saison, really. It's 5.6% ABV, a pale copper colour, and mixes classic saison flavours of straw, white pepper, banana and a touch of green apple. There's nothing sour about it, and nothing that really says "wild" to me, which was a little disappointing but that's nature for you. Still another very decent farmhouse-style beer from Black Donkey, though. It's good that not everything is an IPA or barrel-aged beast, at least yet.

On a boring houekeeping note, I'm going to make an effort to make these athematic round-ups shorter and more frequent. No promises though.

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