13 August 2018

New on deck

A couple of weeks of travel posts mean I'm way behind in my Irish beer round-ups. Let's see what there's been in the pubs recently.

Eight Degrees dropped a new flavoured Berliner Weisse for summer, a sequel to last year's rhubarb and redcurrant one. This time it's elderflower and raspberry in the mix and the ABV has been raised slightly to 3.7%. The Black Sheep was asking €6.75 for a pint so I opted for just a half. That was enough to give me an impression of it. The raspberry is very dominant, a tart jamminess with the sort of sticky sweetness you find in raspberry-flavoured hard candy after you've sucked it a bit. Any elderflower taste has been thoroughly crushed by this. The lactic sourness dovetails neatly with the fruit, and while it's missing the dry wheatiness that makes Berliner weisse refreshing, there is enough of a tang to keep it on my good side. This is definitely more a carefree summer fruit beer than a serious-face sour one.

Staying on a vaguely wild theme, Rascals had a new barrel-aged Blueberry Saison on the go recently. It's a fun bright purple colour but with a very serious ABV of 7%, and lots of serious oak flavour too: an incense-like spiciness. This contrasts nicely with the tart berry flavours. I don't think I'd have guessed blueberry, and got more a sense of red grape and raspberry from it. Everything about this is well-integrated and complementary, and it's much less of a novelty beer than the name or description might suggest.

I wish I could say the same of their latest pale ale: Piña Colada. This is exactly what's implied by the name, an attempt to recreate the famous cocktail in beer form. They've achieved it with the addition of lactose, coconut and pineapple, and the result is something smooth, sweet and creamy, more like a lassi than a beer. There's a light lime cordial bitterness putting a bit of an edge on it, and a flavour of real fibrous pineapple flesh. Amazingly it doesn't get horribly sickly as it goes, staying clean throughout. While very much a silly summer gimmick, it's quite harmless.

From pineapples to pineappleweed, a plant I hadn't heard of until it showed up in a beer from Black's of Kinsale. Pineappleweed Botanical IPA is just 4.6% ABV, and looks like pineapple juice: an opaque hazy yellow. The aroma is very citrus, with lime and grapefruit in particular, and the flavour is bitter to match: a big punch of grapefruit again, livened with lemon zest. In short, it's a very good, classically flavoured, new world IPA, and performs particularly brilliantly at the strength. Seekers of novelty may be disappointed, however, and there's nothing much pineappley or botanical going on here.

Also getting botanical was Urban Brewing, with a new beer collaborating with its neighbour, EPIC, the Irish emigrant visitor experience. EPIC URBAN Brew is an IPA. The theme is ingredients from places Irish people emigrated to, which gave them quite a choice, really. The blurb mentions French and German grain, American hops, and lemon verbena, from Argentina. The beer is 6.7% ABV and a hazy brown colour. There's a lightly citric nose while the flavour offers a fascinating mix of spices including cinnamon and cloves. I understand the recipe also includes rye so that may be at work here. Rather than lemon, the verbena adds a piquant mintyness to the finish. It's not very IPA-like, but it's certainly an interesting and enjoyable combination.

I still have to delve into my notes from Hagstravaganza 2018, but the beers first poured there are beginning to creep out into the wider world. The Porterhouse had a new New England IPA on the go, called Slurpasaurus, and I got myself a pint of it in the Temple Bar branch. It's a beer of real contrasts, sweet and juicy at first with strong notes of peach and mango. And then a strong bitterness runs in parallel with this, an almost harsh counter-melody of grapefruit and lime. This beer isn't bothered about balance, but has bags of deliciously fresh and punchy character. The bitterness eventually wins out and provides a long acidic finish, one which, more than anything, reminds me of the Galena bite in classic Wrassler's stout. Beautiful.

Low ABV has been something of a theme in Irish brewing of late, and O Brother jumped on the bandwagon with The Freewheeler, 3% ABV earning it the description "super session IPA". It's yellow with a medium level of haze. The flavour opens on a doubly sharp combination of grapefruit and yeast, before a quick and watery finish. I think this one might be better described as a table beer, then. There's lots of fizz too, which I think would harm the sessionability of it. I felt it lacked substance, and that's not always a given at the strength. More hops, for one thing, could perhaps have brought a bit more character.

DOT's contribution to the trend is Dot Dot Hop Lager, only 3.6% ABV and showcasing the prodigal son of trendy hops, Nelson Sauvin. It pours a pure and clear golden colour, with an aroma of succulent peach and watermelon. The flavour perfectly demonstrates the dry white grape signature of Nelson, strong enough to turn to bitterer lime and guava towards the end, and laced with a slight edge of diesel. That's quite a lot of complexity for the strength, and it can't be accused of being thin or watery. DOT's switch to light, pale and hoppy is to be welcomed, but that logo still suggests barrel ageing every time I see it. Roll on winter.

But just because it's still summer doesn't mean we can't have some new dark beers too. Wicklow Wolf released a brown-coloured caramel-infused cream ale called Fierce Wolf, the third in their collaborative series, this time with Aberdeen-based Fierce Beer. It's not very fierce at all: 3.8% ABV and very dessertish, bringing a combination of soft toffee and ripe banana. The sweetness is a little nerve-jangling at first, but you get used to it. It settles down to something pleasant but quite plain after the first few mouthfuls, and then doesn't go anywhere else. It's passable, but a bit dull.

And a stout to finish off. I keep missing the annual release of Carlow Brewing and Pinta's collaboration stouts, Lublin to Dublin. For 2018 they've added Turkish coffee, and quite a lot of it, I reckon. There's loads of roast in this 6%-er, followed by chocolate and cereals. That's all fairly traditional, but there's also a strong herbal vibe of rosemary and basil, and of course the eastern spices: cloves and cinnamon carried a long way by the sweet cake-like base. It's lovely, but doesn't really taste of coffee. Just like a Turkish coffee, I guess.

That'll do for today. Some more thematically coherent Irish beer posts will follow.

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