15 November 2018

From the edge

Post Card Brewing Co. had been on hiatus for a while. Its host brewery, Craftworks, moved location and rebranded as Select Batch, and now the Post Card series has had a revamp also, with modern labels and moderner 440ml cans.

Two new releases signalled the return, beginning with The Grand Stretch, a dunkel kristal [sic] weisse, which is a very unusual style for an Irish brewer to tackle. It looks handsome in the glass: the purest shade of polished chestnut. Maybe it's the filtering, but it lacks the richness found in hefeweizen, being quite thin and crisp, with dark toasted grain, finishing dry. There's a hint of green banana and some asparagus-like German hops, but also a cherry sourness which is very out of keeping for a weisse of any stripe. I'll admit the particular sub-style is not one I'm familiar with, but I don't think this quite works, other than the appearance, of course.

A more on-trend style, New England IPA, is represented by the second beer, Hazy Moose. It's only slightly hazy, being otherwise a rather wan and watery-looking yellow. The aroma is superb: freshly sweet pineapple with hints of sharper grapefruit -- balance, tropical style. And that's exactly what's delivered on tasting; annoyingly so, as there's not much else I can say. There's a slight added yeast spice and a warmth from its 6.5% ABV, but otherwise it's real pithy grapefruit buddying up with smooth sweet pineapple in a deliciously tasty way. I inhaled it in quite an indecent fashion and immediately hankered after another.

I look forward to further releases from Post Card v.2. Especially where hops are involved.

14 November 2018

Darkness and daylight

This post started out as a quick catch-up with YellowBelly Brewery but their output being what it is, it's now a five-beer mini-marathon.

We begin with the fourth release in their members-only club series. CloisterPhobia came branded as a 7.5% ABV dark abbey beer. Any Trappist notions are immediately extinguished by the fast-dissipating excuse for a head. It smells roasty, like a porter. The flavour has a bit more Belgian about it: hints of prunes, raisins and chocolate, but there's a lack of richness which I assign to the relatively low alcohol. This seems to me like a quadrupel brewed to dubbel strength, so just a little off kilter and lacking in power. While decent, it's no improvement on the Belgian originals.

And if you want on board for the 2019 club, bookings are now being taken.

A pair of new sour beers landed a couple of weeks previously, appearing side-by-side in UnderDog and I'm sure plenty of other places too.

Sunset was 7.2% ABV and a deep orange colour. This piles in the grains, coming across crisp and husky, primarily. The obvious strength lends it a soft warmth which butts up against a curdling sourness, a flavour which is merely tangy at the outset but develops into full-on vinegar by the end. This is a real bruiser, far from a fun and zippy sour beer, more of a serious chin-stroker. As a man of unrefined tastes I found it hard to enjoy.

What do we get with Sunrise, other than an ABV reduced to 7.1%? It's still weighty, and identical looking, but there's definitely more zing in this: a distinct squirt of Jif lemon and some coconut oil, leading to a refreshingly tart finish. It's not all that complex but it is tasty, making good use of dry hopping to add character to a big and blousey sour beer. I still think the strength is unwarranted: the pair of these would have been better beers under the 5% ABV mark, I reckon.

Looks like I'm hard to please when it comes to the 7.x% ABV zone: your abbey ale is too weak and your sour ones too strong. How about a nice Baltic porter, hmm?

Below that line there's Usurper, a blueberry-flavoured ale at 6.2% ABV. Information about it is thin on the ground at time of writing, but it looks the part: a bright and shiny plum colour. The texture is thick, adding a poster paint feel to its poster paint looks, and the first flavour is a harsh, almost burning, yeast bite. There's a syrupy and jammy fruit flavour, more sweet blackcurrant than tart blueberry to me. A dry minerality cleans up the sugar towards the end and might have been a neat finisher were it not for the final throat-burn of dreggy yeast. What should have been a fun beer ended up a bit of a chore to get through.

A second can rounds this one out. The top-tier punnage of the new east coast IPA -- The Crystal Haze -- is offset somewhat by its caramelised malt not making much of a contribution to the flavour or appearance. Oh well. Perhaps it's a little darker than these tend to be but it's still very much in the normal golden-orange NEIPA spectrum. The aroma is very ripe fruit: squashy mandarins, leaning towards solvent. On tasting it's cleaner, thankfully. It starts on zesty orangeade and some sweeter pineapple and mango, before flipping suddenly to savoury garlic and white onion. That was a little disconcerting at first but I got used to it quickly and was enjoying the flavour choreography by the end. It was a relief, also, not have to chew this one. At 5.8% it has the lowest ABV of the bunch, and while there's a certain New England fuzz to the texture, it's by no means difficult drinking.

Quite a mixed bag here, and nothing that seriously impressed. The YellowBelly machine rumbles on...

13 November 2018

Dragon energy

Maybe I'm just not paying sufficient attention, but the beers from Cardiff's Tiny Rebel brewery seem to no more than trickle in to Ireland, showing up in random places without consistency or logic. Today's beer is Dutty, a session New England IPA I found in Redmond's but haven't seen anywhere else.

Though only a piddling 4.2% ABV it packs a lot of positive NEIPA attributes in there. It's a dense-looking opaque orange colour, but there's no yeasty grit in the flavour. The aroma is citric, and the flavour carries enough of that bitterness to make it satisfyingly balanced. The main act, however, is the juiciness: a beautifully quenching mix of mango, mandarin and guava. A remarkably full body really accentuates the fruit, though the sweetness doesn't last long, being finished off by the aforementioned bittering and a smack of herbal resins.

It's a lovely drinking beer for summer (remember that?), and absolutely begs to be followed with another. The little 33cl cans, while I'm sure helping with keeping it cold, don't do it full justice when you only have one to hand. This beer deserves pints.

12 November 2018

Melvined

I knew I'd heard of the brewery, but couldn't think where. That's what got me to buy these four, quite spendy, cans of beer from Melvin Brewing in Wyoming. When I got home and looked it up... Oh. Not cool, Melvin. Well, I've got the beers now anyway. Let's see how they shake out.

The weakest of the set is Hubert, a pale ale at 6% ABV. It's a slightly hazy dark golden colour and smells classically American, mixing toffee with grapefruit. The flavour is softer and more integrated: ripe peach and apricot, still sweet but not sugary. There's a pinch of green lime bitterness in the finish, though otherwise it's a very mellow affair with a nicely chewy texture, yet not too heavy. It's a calm and chilled-out sort of strong hoppy beer, one that I could happily relax into a few of.

Melvin IPA is the least-imaginatively named one of the set. It's 7.5% ABV and a deeper orange hue than the pale ale. This is quite effective in unweaving all that was good about Hubert. There's a similar classically American citrus flavour profile but it's heavy, sticky and boozy. I get lots of marmalade in the centre of the flavour, the whisky sort, by the spoonful. There's a pleasant peppery spicing in the finish but it doesn't do enough to balance it. By the end of the glass I was apprehensive about the stronger ones to come.

Drunken Master IPA pushes us to 9% ABV. The colour is heading towards amber now, although this one doesn't smell any stronger. It's more subtle all round, in fact. The carbonation is almost non-existent, giving it a wine-ish feel, while the flavour drops all of the weighty fruit of the previous two and goes instead for a clean bitterness, tasting of marjoram, rosemary and similar oily green herbs. It's a little on the dull side, laid-back to the point of falling over, and definitely doesn't present to the senses as much as the previous two. It's fine, though. The smoothness makes it a very uncomplicated way to get 9% ABV into your bloodstream with the minimum of fuss. Part of me feels this type of beer shouldn't be so bland, but another part is very glad it's not a sticky mess.

The sequence finishes with 2x4, pushing the strength to the two-digit limit of 9.9% ABV. This is another fairly plain one. Yes the alcohol is apparent, all slick and spirituous without being actually hot, while the hops bring a modest juicy citrus to the party. I miss the herbal complexity that the other one showed: this one is just hot orange cordial. Again, it's not offensive. The malt is kept on a tight leash and doesn't spread unwelcome sugar over the palate. But for the price I'd like something a little more interesting.

It turns out that the basic pale ale is the best of the bunch where Melvin is concerned. There are no missteps with the way the beers are designed, but the increase in alcohol comes with a decrease of fun, which is not how it should be. Keep it light, Melvin. Stay in the friendzone.

09 November 2018

Running to catch up

The Irish beer backlog has filled up so needs to be emptied now. Open wide...

I've only just caught up with Boyne Brewhouse's summer special, Jigs & Reels, created as a tie-in with the Fleadh Cheoil in Drogheda this year. It's a session IPA, just 4% ABV and a sickly looking hazy pale yellow. The billed hops are Mosaic, Cascade, Chinook and Centennial, and they've got full value out of the bitterness: the waxy, earthy buzz of Cascade stands out in particular for me. From a sharp lemon rind opener, the bittering fades and more subtle citrus notes emerge after; even a mild tropicality. This softens further to a floral perfume which is where I would like it to finish but it turns a little soapy right on the very end. A lasting impression of lime shred marmalade forms the aftertaste. I enjoyed it. It's light and drinkable despite the sharpness, with enough complexity to be actively interesting.

A change of the seasons later and Boyne Brewhouse's new Winter Ale has emerged. It's brewed to 8% ABV and comes in the pure Scandi style, deep red in colour and eschewing any novelty winter spices. It's still spicy, though: a roasty spark of incense and nutmeg. There's a Belgian feel to the base, a dubbel-like mix of toffee, banana and fig. While tasting the full strength it doesn't get hot or cloying and there's a drying shot of espresso right on the end, accompanied by a modest square of dark chocolate. Like the summery quaffer above, this fulfils its role well: properly wintery and warming with no silly gimmicks involved. A half-litre bottle or tall can would have worked as well as the 33cl; just saying.

Also going full winter was St Mel's Brewing, with Slow Burner extra stout. The shadow of Leann Folláin hangs over this, St Mel's's Liam having formulated the iconic stout while head brewer at Carlow. At 6.5% ABV this is slightly stronger and also a lot drier, with a huge bitterly roasted foretaste, all burnt toast and the darkest of chocolate. There's a delicious floral/herbal complexity backing this -- rosewater and liquorice -- with rosewater in the aroma too. The texture is surprisingly light for the strength, which makes for easy drinking though I would have liked a bit more of a finish: it all goes away a little too abruptly for my liking. It's a very decent stout, and a bargain at just €3 a bottle as SuperValu's beer of the month for November, but I think the roast really ought to be dialled back a little, with maybe a smidge more hop. If roast is your bag, though, get stuck in.

With the new brewery in Athlone almost completed, Dead Centre released its fourth beer, still brewed at St Mel's in Longford. It's a coffee porter called Moondust, named after the variety of coffee used in it. The colour was surprisingly pale: mahogany brown rather than black. That coffee ain't subtle. There's a raw and dry coffee roast as an aroma, to begin with. The flavour starts out dry too, then a hazelnut sweetness rises up, finishing on a creamy real-latte note. The beery side of the equation is a little lost, but there is a hop tang in here, and some complementary porterish chocolate. Though 5% ABV it's a little on the thin side and I think that overemphasises the coffee roast a little, but there's a decent complexity if you allow yourself time to explore it properly.

One step ahead of Dead Centre, Rascals open their doors to the public for the first time at 4pm today. I went along for a sneak peek last Thursday and it's an impressive set up: the first of its kind in Dublin but hopefully far from the last. Their newest release is an Irish Coffee Stout, aged in Irish whiskey barrels though only 4.8% ABV. It's a charming little chap, smooth and sweet with lots of salty milk chocolate and a touch of honeycomb. The coffee side is quite muted, emerging only at the end as a different kind of sweetness, and I didn't really notice any heat or flavour from the whiskey. I got an overall impression of chocolate milkshake more than Irish coffee, which is pleasant in its own way.

Just under the wire for this post's deadline comes West Coast Speedball from Galway Bay. This is another big and wintery job, 6.5% ABV with espresso and oatmeal and served on nitro. It is therefore gloriously thick -- a real knife-and-fork job. The booze is infused with the coffee which wafts up the back of the palate and there's a long chocolate cake aftertaste, properly dark and bitter chocolate cake at that. This still possesses all the faculties of the powerful stout it's based on but uses the coffee well to enhance this without drowning it out. I'm even ready to forgive the nitro: I don't think the flavour suffers under it, for a change.

It has been a while since we had a new one from Brehon Brewhouse. The latest is interesting: Mechanical Turk. It was billed solely as a coffee milk stout on the boards at UnderDog and I was a few mouthfuls in before I copped the Turkish connection, the cinnamon spicing being actually more apparent than any coffee flavouring. Honey and cardamom follow but the body struggles to push all the sweet spiciness to the drinker's palate -- it's just too thin. There's precious little excuse for that with the ABV at 5.7%. Its high fizz and quick finish are disappointing and it doesn't help that Carlow Brewing made something much better along similar lines with their