02 January 2019

The January booze

With the over-indulgent festive season behind us and a mean old January under way we might find ourselves counting the pennies for something to drink. Luckily, Aldi commissioned a basketful of new Irish beers late last year, doubtless intended for Christmas celebrations but they'll do just as well for the lean early weeks of the New Year. What have we got in the basket?

From Cotton Ball in Cork comes a pair branded as though from the "Hawthorn Tales Brewery". I began with Hawthorn Mischief, a 4.8% ABV lager. It looks great: a crystalline gold with a pretty white fluff on top. The texture is quite heavy, and suspiciously ale-like, and there's a honey and flowers combination of the sort you'd find in an English golden ale. It re-lager-ises itself with some distinctly noble hop bitterness, all grass and celery and red cabbage. The balance of malt and hops isn't subtle, both sides absolutely roaring, but it works quite well. Think of it as a winter lager for holing up and hunkering down with.

Hawthorn Fury pale ale also looked handsome: an attractive coppery amber, and unfashionably clear with it. It's very strong for an Aldi own-brand, all of 5.8% ABV. Perfume features again, this time with a candy chew sweetness, in both the aroma and flavour. There's a blast of Lucozade, Tizer, or similar artificial fruit to begin, turning powerfully bitter quite quickly, introducing an incense and cedarwood complexity. The strength amplifies all of this, almost to the point where it becomes harsh and acrid but it doesn't quite tip in there: the bitterness fades quickly from the aftertaste leaving just an echo of that candy and scent.

The best thing about both of these is the boldness: no watery lowest-common-denominator recipes here.

Aldi's second new fake brewery is "Roadworks Brewing Co." Considered next to Hawthorn Tales their combined branding looks like the girls and boys birthday card sections circa 1985. This pair were brewed at Station Works and are the first beers I've seen bearing the address of the new brewery in Dundalk.

The pale ale is called Brewers At Work, and the label helpfully warns that it's going to be a bit hazy, which it is. The aroma is sweet but citrussy, saying candied orange peel to me. The texture is light and effervescent, entirely in keeping with the 4.5% ABV, but I'm not sure there's enough flavour to prevent it going watery. What's there is a scattering of sweet tropicals: melon, mango, passionfruit, and just a tiny bite -- a nibble -- of witbier-like lemon citrus. I guess this is designed to be refreshing, a job it would do well. It's easy drinking and has enough flavour to dodge being bland, but only just. I think I would have liked a bit more substance. Bear it in mind for al fresco sessions on longer days.

Caution Hops Ahead IPA trumps even Hawthorn Fury in the ABV stakes, at 6.5%. It's certainly not as light as the matching pale ale but it does have a lot in common with it, namely the sweet candied fruit. It's a little bitterer but no more than a marmalade, say. There's a smidge more power to it, but not as much as you might expect for a full 2% extra. This is another pleasant and easy-going one, no big hop powerhouse, but flavourful, and with plenty of bang for the low price.

I'm tacking an English interloper on the end here. Marstons-brewed The 1079 Project has been in Aldi for a while, but always as a four-pack. I never felt inclined to take the chance. But now they've been separated and come in at less than a euro a can each so I didn't have an excuse. This is a dry-hopped pilsner, though we are not told with which varieties. It's a limpid golden colour with a head that fades quite quickly after pouring. After the first sip my Sorachi sense was tingling: that slightly sickly note of moist coconut. There's an almost gloopy syrup background and a savoury poppyseed contrast. It's grimly heavy and not at all pils-like.

Where's the value in this lot? That first lager and the IPA, I guess, though none of them are exactly delightful. When's payday again?