26 November 2018

Thick and fast

Another Irish beer round-up already? Blimey. I guess it's because we're coming into premier drinking season that everyone is turning the beers out now.

They often come in giftable boxes, and Boyne Brewhouse sent me a three-pack of small bottles including the new-to-me Boyne Brewhouse Belgian Dubbel. It's a properly full 8% ABV and appears black in the glass rather than brown, though turns a limpid ruby when held up to the light. The aroma is all thick treacle and booze but there's a bit more nuance about the flavour: banana esters and a sharp old-world hop bite, for example. There's a dry and crumbly chocolate biscuit note, and touch of typically dubbelish fig and plum. It's on the severe side of the style scale, with a dry roast almost akin to a strong stout. The fruit esters save it, though, making it unmistakably Belgian in style. It might need a little time to mellow but it's a perfectly acceptable winter beer right now.

Sticking with the encroaching season, Clonakilty Brewery have a rare new release in the shops now: Winter Warmer imperial stout. It's even wearing a Christmas jumper! The pour looks good: thick and gloopy (despite a modest 8.2% ABV) topped by a lasting finger of foam. It smells welcoming, all roasty and warm. Dark chocolate is the main brace of the flavour, edged with a sharper diesel note and a long black coffee finish. It's not the most polished imperial stout I've ever tasted but it does a very good impression of ones at much higher ABVs. There are no pastry additions and no barrel-aged trickery so it all stands on its own: bitter and every bit as warming as promised. Full marks for the half litre bottle too.

That was acquired in Martin's of Fairview where they've also just taken a shipment of the latest in their series of house beers created by DOT and Hope. The Portrait Project Barrel Aged Pale Ale began as the Juicy IPA I reviewed here but has been given time in French Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc barrels, picking up an extra .6% ABV along the way. It ends up a hazy orange colour and tastes very wine-like. As usual with white wine barrels, I get more of the tannins and dark fruit of a red wine from it: a rich and tasty kick of Valpolicella or Chianti. The beer beneath gets a little drowned out by the oak and the wine. You can forget about the hop resins found in the original, this is all wood and wine. It's very decent but I just wanted the still-a-beer quotient to be a smidge higher. If wine barrels are your thing, though, hightail it to Fairview.

Hope has eschewed the winter IPA it brewed last year in favour of an American Amber for the season. It's an easy-going fellow, light bodied and a mere 4.9% ABV. There's loads of fresh and resinous dankness with a slightly fudgey malt finish. It improves as it warms, rounding out though never losing the essential hop character. This is simple and tasty, well designed for carefree session drinking.

The brewery tried something more daring with Um Bango, billed as a tart IPA with mango and blood orange. It arrived looking like a glass of orange juice and the flavour was absolutely dominated by harsh, acrid, burning yeast dregs. There's some non-specific sweet fruit behind this, and a mild yoghurt-grade tartness, but it was a struggle to taste even that through the muck. I'm generally very well-disposed to sour IPAs, but whether it was intentional murk or I got the tail-end of the keg, this one didn't work for me at all.

Two new winter releases from Eight Degrees appeared side-by-side at The Hill recently. I missed the tap takeover event but they were still on last weekend for me to try.

Trespass is a saison with added blackberries, brewed last year with Jamil Zainasheff collaborating, fermented with Brettanomyces and aged a full thirteen months in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir barrels, coming out at 7.5% ABV. Was it worth it? I would say very definitely. It's a handsome cherry colour with a distinctly Flemish red sharpness, especially the vinegary aroma. It's softer than most of them, though, the flavour nuanced by ripe cherry and chocolate notes. There's a peppery spice of the sort I associate with Shiraz wine and a rounded cork-oak element as well. It never gets heavy, finishing on a lovely fruity tang which lasts long into the aftertaste. Really classy stuff and well suited to the 75cl bottles in which they've put it out.

The other new one is the second barrel-aged stout they've done since Jameson's owners bought the brewery. Blowhard is a whopping 12% ABV but tastes nothing like that, being sweet and smooth, full of milk chocolate and with a lacing of honey which I guess is the whiskey's doing. A few sips in and I noticed a growing belly-warmth which must be the spirit again so this is definitely a beer that sneaks up on you. I don't think I'm out of order by wanting a little more complexity from something like this, however.

From The Hill I nipped into town to UnderDog where Rye River was launching the final beer in its five-beer limited edition series. This is Five Finger DIPA, an 8%-er with Citra, Mosaic and Galaxy hops. I don't know why I thought it would be hazy -- because everything else is these days, I suppose -- but it turned out to be a bright San Diego gold. The flavour is just as clear as the appearance: sharp lime skin and grapefruit rind, dank hop oils, and fading to a cheerier citrus zest. The strength provides a platform for the hops but never becomes part of the show itself; there's no boozy heat here. It's not balanced, and nor is it meant to be. This is all about the in-your-face hop blast, something it delivers very nicely indeed.

Crafty Beer has skipped a couple of steps in the branding progress scale, jumping straight from half-litre bottles with Word 96 art to 440ml cans with arty embossed labels. The latest is called New World Pale Ale, and is 4.5% ABV. It's new New World, as it pours a murky grey-orange colour. The aroma is beautiful despite this: a bright and fresh pineapple scent. Pineapple is front and centre in the flavour too, juicy from the get-go, fading to a concentrated tinned-fruit finish. There's a misstep in the middle, a scorching dry yeast bite that upsets the beer's equilibrium, but only momentarily -- the tasty tropicality covers it up quickly and there's nothing to upset things until half way through the next mouthful. Yes I would like it cleaner, but this still gets a pass from me.

Red IPAs are thin on the ground, and it's a tough style to impress with. Black's of Kinsale dropped a new one recently, called Redhead. This is a strong 6.5% ABV and a murky red-brown with just a little too much of a yeast burr up front in the flavour. Beyond that, there's a very good beer present: warming malt complemented by heavy hop oils, like a heftier version of the Hope Amber above. I found myself enjoying it more as the glass went along. Cleaned up this would be a lovely winter sipper.

For Black Friday, Barrelhead put a new Schwarzbier on the taps at JW Sweetman. It might be a bit of a slow mover as when I was in on Friday afternoon there was no sign or notice that it was available on an unmarked JWS tap. It proved on the strong side for the style at 5.8% ABV and sacrifices some of the style's fizzy crispness for a deeper malt warmth. This includes raisins and a generous dose of dark treacle though it still finishes properly dry and lager-clean. Confusingly, I also got a slight acetic tang, lending it the aroma and foretaste of a mild Flanders red. This may just have been my pint and be related to the lack of promotion. Either way, it doesn't spoil the experience. If there was a possibility of this becoming a much-needed regular schwarzbier, I'd be in favour.

Rascals have been busy winding down their original brewery in Rathcoole ahead of the commissioning of the shiny new one in Inchicore. Before moving, they manged to complete the 759 series, begun back in February. Nine brings up the rear, a 9% ABV New England double IPA. Loads of oily dank in the aroma, with the full compliment of garlic and a hint of caraway. It's as thick as you might expect: solid custard with proper New England fluff. A lot of alcohol is crammed in there: clean, sharp and spirituous. There's a lime bite, its edge dampened by the mouthfeel, but still clean and properly tasty. There's not much juice here but I liked its serious boozy styles. This is a great example of the double IPA style given a New England fruit infusion. Might just stop at one though.

Out at the same time is Grey Area, a lemon thyme saison, created as a collaboration with the artists' collective who painted the outside of the new brewery, though hopefully they paid them as well. Pale and hazy, it's a light and easy-going one, lemon like lemonade and thyme like a heaping helping of Sunday stuffing. The carbonation is remarkably low, but it really works: there's no loss of crispness. Smooth and sweet saison is something I can get behind. This is perhaps better suited to high summer than the onset of winter, but no matter.

Finally for today, a new bottle from White Gypsy. Brewer's Choice doesn't cite a style, just that it uses a Belgian ale yeast and Mosaic hops, and is 6.5% ABV. It pours an unattractive muddy brown colour with a loose head, fading quickly to a thin skim of foam. The Belgian character is very clear from tasting: it has the fruit and spice of a dubbel, all baked apples and raisins. The pale malt means it's not sweet and cakey, however, and is instead tartly bitter. A tripel-like nutmeg spice finishes it off, complementing the substantial alcohol warmth. Despite the appearance this is a remarkably clean beer. It has a very unusual flavour profile, but definitely an enjoyable one. Well worth trying if you see it during its limited run.

That's all I can fit into this post. There'll be more Irish beers later in the week.

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