19 March 2018

One night in Drumcondra

I decided, a few years ago, that bottle shares aren't for me. It's not a format in which I really enjoy drinking beer so I mostly leave it to other people. Occasionally, very occasionally, however, an invitation lands that I can't resist. Simon waved a can of Focal Banger at me and off I went, through the January drizzle, to the northside.

It was a bigger occasion than I was expecting: ten beers and four punters to drink them. We began with Weird Weather Lactose, an achingly hip double IPA from Mikkeller. The aroma is promising, all fresh and zesty, but it falls apart on tasting. A horribly thick soupy texture is the first transgression, followed by cloying, juddering sweetness. Lemon curd is the only flavour I picked up, and that's not enough for any beer at 8.3% ABV. I'm sure it's just how the kids like their DIPA these days, and that it's exactly as the brewer intended, but it just didn't hit the proper flavour beats to get a pass from me.

Headline act Alchemist Focal Banger came next, an IPA of 7% ABV. An ugly beast, there were huge bits floating around in it; the otherwise clear yellow beer visible between the clumps. While not as sickly as the previous beer, there is a major gumminess. Clinging on to that I found a harsh onion flavour and a stern pine bitterness. The green onion lasts long into the finish, and neither it nor anything that came before it, suggested to me that this beer deserves its high standing. Maybe it originated IPA that tastes like onion, but there's loads of them now. It's really nothing special; let the hype train move along.

Switching continents, dropping the alcohol further, but keeping it savoury, The Kernel was next, with Pale Ale Nelson Sauvin. There was surprisingly little aroma, and while the caraway occupied the middle ground of the flavour, some much more pleasant peach and melon notes gradually emerged later. I think I'm too used to treating Kernel beers reverentially, because it took me a while to twig that this 5%-er is meant as easy-going refreshment, and I'm sure it performs that role masterfully. It's easy to miss these associations when sharing tiny measures.

My contribution to the line-up came from the late lamented Commons Brewery, and was the last of the bottles I brought home from the US in 2016. Petit Classique is (was) a 4.1% ABV saison with added pink peppercorns. I was seriously worried about what might have happened after two winters and a summer in my uninsulated attic. I needn't have been: it was gorgeous, and tasted as fresh as the day it was bottled. There was a massive peach aroma to begin, and that carried through into the flavour: juicy and fleshy, accompanied by a white-tea dryness and a little plummy tartness. The pepper is barely noticeable, and the base is a lightly-browned toast malt, similar to champagne. It's a fantastically elegant beer, complex and flavourful without anything out of place or unpleasantly loud. That its makers couldn't survive in business merely indicates that the beer market is the wrong shape.

To Canada next, and Molson Coors-owned Trou Du Diable in Quebéc. La Pitoune claims to be a pilsner, and is indeed yellow. It smells worryingly fruity, however, and there's an annoying amount of fizz. I got a huge malt extract flavour, like it's somehow unfinished, and this makes it cloying and difficult and a long way from what pilsner is supposed to be. A fun incense spicing is the only redeeming feature in what's an otherwise difficult and confusing beer.

Its sibling was Le Sang D'Encre, a stout at 5.5% ABV. This was a marked improvement, though isn't exactly subtle. It roars with milk chocolate and sweet wheaty cereal, and seemed quite raw and homebrew-ish to me. I got a hint of herbal mint at the end, and a smooth warming coffee taste, like Tia Maria. It's not at all bad, once you get used to that kiddies' breakfast sugar rush.

A colourful can next: Prairie Flair from Prairie Artisan Ales in Oklahoma. It self-describes as an orange and coriander gose and is 5.4% ABV. The aroma is very promising, offering a spicy gunpowder minerality. Fruit takes over in the flavour, specifically notes of fresh ripe apricot, followed by a saline rush sweeping it away as quickly as it arrived. A middling sourness is left behind as the finish; clean but not sharp or puckering. The salt wash means it just misses out on being properly refreshing, and I'd have enjoyed it more if that had been dialled back a little, but for a flavoured gose it hits a lot of the classic style points.

It's always a pleasure to catch up with beer from Burning Sky, one of the most interesting English breweries. Last Voyage was in the line-up here, a murky yellow IPA that showed the first two beers how it's supposed to be done. There's a yeast element to the aroma, but spicy, not gritty, and there's a certain vanilla character in the flavour, but not overly sweet. Balancing it is an orange and clove taste that really brings the collaborating brewery to mind, adding as it does a lacing of Harvey's Sussex Best Bitter, one of the world's truly great beers. Like Sussex Best there's a sublime accessible complexity, and it's very easy to forget it's a thumping 6.7% ABV. Deliberately cloudy IPAs have a history (albeit a short one) of using English ale yeasts; I think we may have a winning strain here.

More in the same vein from Wylam next, with The Man Behind The Door. 7.2% ABV this time, and the aroma is a fun mix of alium and spices. I got nutmeg in particular, and in the flavour that's joined by clove as well, plus a sizeable vanilla sweetness. It's very much in that modern style, but is another one that pulls it off neatly, holding my attention after the second mouthful while not pushing any one element of the profile to the extreme.

We finished the session where we started it, on a pale yellow double IPA from a tall can: Wylam's 45:33. There's more spice in the aroma here, but also a more traditional citric buzz, all orange and lemon rinds. Then it's back to business as usual: vanilla flavour, plus concentrated garlic, with a sticky consistency. Nevertheless it manages to do all that well, mostly by going shamelessly all-out on everything, and making full use of its 8.4% ABV. Somehow it manages to avoid turning hot, though I did get a slight plastic buzz, which sometimes clings to the end of intense vanilla. I'm still giving it a nod of approval, before I head for the door.

Cheers to Steph, Simon and Richard for helping fill out another one of these interminable blog posts.

16 March 2018

A Suir thing

Reuben's stag weekend brought a small and very well-behaved group of beer fans to Waterford for a couple of days' civilised tippling.

Action centred on two of the city's pubs in particular, beginning at the new Metalman bar, following a visit to the brewery. It's a neat little place, in a former biker bar on the quayside. Obviously the Metalman range is the main stock in trade, but the guest list is interesting too, with ever-rotating guest beers on tap.

I started on one from Dublin to ease myself in before trying anything too exotic. Carnavale is your standard guava and coconut wheat ale, brewed by Hopfully and obviously channelling the brewery's Brazilian roots, with collaborative input from Brewtonic. It looks like coconut milk: an opaque greenish off-white. The guava really comes out in the flavour, producing a full-on tropical fruit effect which all but obscures the beer qualities. I didn't really get the coconut, which hovers in the background, more a seasoning than a main flavour. Though brewed for the pre-Lent festivities, this would work well as a summer refresher as it's only 4.3% ABV and slips back very easily indeed. It might be too sweet for more than a pint or two, however.

Not to be outdone, Metalman also had a wheaty fruit beer on offer: Jungle Boogie, based on their wheat lager Equinox, with added raspberry, grapefruit and orange juice. I'm no tropical botanist but I don't think any of those are native to the jungle. Anyway, it's a very modest 3.7% ABV and even sweeter than Carnavale. It's pretty simple too, with the raspberry the most prominent flavour but even it doesn't hang around long and the whole thing finishes quickly. This is a quirky novelty, but no more than that.

Closer to the centre of town is Tully's Bar. This well-worn traditional pub feels like it's been around forever but it's only been Tully's since late 2015. Like its twin in Carlow town, the beer offer is taken seriously, with the mainstream industrials on tap at one end of the bar and a range of independent offerings up front.

Another Dublin beer is how I opened my account here. I hadn't seen Hope New England IPA on sale anywhere at home, which is a pity because it's beautiful. I'll get to why in a minute, but significantly, unlike the vast majority of New England-style beers coming out of Dublin breweries these days, it displays the features which I regard as the essentials of the style. It's properly hazy for a start, and pleasingly orange rather than beige. The body is big and smooth while the flavour is primarily juicy and sweet, all jaffa and mandarin, with overtones of Fanta. A very mild dankness follows but it never goes as far as onion or garlic. It's only 5% ABV too, which makes it very pintable: a mature New England IPA for the more considered drinker. That will do me nicely.

Something from a little closer to the bar next: Black's of Kinsale's Pale Face Killer, an India pale lager. It arrived a hazy amber colour and tasted surprisingly sweet. The hops give it a kind of fruit-chew effect, or maybe lemon sherbet. We're definitely at the sweet counter either way. That's fine as a flavour profile, but where this guy really falls down is the texture. Presumably going for clean, it ends up thin and watery, causing those perfectly good candy hops to fade off the palate far too quickly leaving nothing behind. I would have thought 4.8% ABV was enough to give this proper heft, but it wasn't to be, unfortunately.

Many other beers were had, and Waterford is shaping up to be quite a decent little beer destination, drawing in products from the many breweries around the south and east of the country. The imminent arrival of a YellowBelly bar will improve it further. It just needs a beer festival now...

14 March 2018

Gone native

With Stone Brewing's Berlin plant in full swing now, they've not only adopted the local beer style, in White Ghost Berliner weisse, they've adopted German labelling habits, putting important information like the name of the beer and its alcoholic strength in the tiniest possible writing. Still, a Berliner weisse that they didn't try and be clever with is to be welcomed, even if it is a bit strong at 4.7% ABV.

It pours a beautiful white-gold colour, though doesn't seem particularly interested in forming a head. The fizz level is correspondingly low. I love the aroma of lemon zest and spicy saltpetre, almost reminiscent of a mature geuze. They've hit the classic (or at least last-weisse-standing Berliner Kindl) flavour points by giving it a mild but present sourness and then dry husky wheat behind it. The slightly sweaty tone in the very finish is all part of that. Overall it's beautifully refreshing and quaffable. And yes, you can add a dash of woodruff syrup if you wish.

The bold text at the top says "True Authentic Berliner Weisse" and for once with Stone, that's not just bluster.

12 March 2018

The London invasion

I've long since lost track of what's happening on London's beer scene. It was so much easier in 2007. The occasional headline occurrence passes my way in the general discourse, but I know that there's plenty chugging away in the background that I'm not aware of. And nor should I be, really: I live far away from London. In recent weeks, two unfamiliar London brewers have come to me, via new export arrangements and launch events.

Five Points I had at least heard of, and even tried their flagship Railway Porter some years back. A selection of their core range is now being imported to Ireland via FourCorners, and a launch event was held at UnderDog so punters like me could try them out.

I began with Five Points Pils. They've adopted the old Camden Town system for this, brewing some in-house and contracting out the rest to a brewer in Belgium. Though unlike Camden Town in its indie days, they don't deign to tell us which Belgian it is. (edit: Matt reports in the comments that all Pils production is now in-house.) The beer is 4.8% ABV and a bright gold colour with a handsome dollop of shaving foam on top. I got a fun combination of lemon sherbet and grassy Saaz hops to begin, backed by a classic Czech-style golden syrup malt flavour. It was all going well until the finish which was just a bit too harshly bitter for my liking, turning waxy and vegetal. It's certainly bold and interesting; my taste runs to something smoother, however, even in pilsner.

The evening's special beer, not part of the range being imported on a regular basis, was De-Railed, a barrel-aged version of Railway Porter. I don't think the barrels have improved it any. The result is very woody, all dry and stale-tasting. The sour funky aroma doesn't help ameliorate the sense of a beer gone a bit rancid. Some of the coffee survives from the base beer, and there's a certain pleasing vinousness, but it's all too severe for me. A taster was plenty, thanks.

The ale sequence begins with Five Points Pale Ale, 4.4% ABV and a murky orange colour. I got a whole candystore full of sherbet from the first sip, zipping and popping with oranges and lemons, set against a heavier marmalade background. A bitter jolt of lime is the finishing flourish. This is a tremendously fun beer, absolutely packed with 360° hop flavour and a triumph for that modest strength. The light texture also adds to its drinkability.

XPA was an altogether calmer affair, served on cask for the evening. Despite the name, this is lower-strength than the pale ale, at 4% ABV. It offers a very simple and dignified blend of sharply citric fresh grapefruit segments and wholesome all-grain toast malt. Again it's one that drinks very easily, but offers plenty to keep the palate occupied while it does so. I think I preferred the sparks found in the kegged pale ale, however.

Completing this subset is Five Points IPA, a big-hitter, US style, at 7% ABV. It's a beautiful medium-gold colour and quite dry, surprisingly so, in fact. I guess they're pitching for that Sculpin-like, almost astringent, west coast thing. A little bit of light dankness in the finish helps add a touch more substance to it, but I felt there should be more going on. It's fine, and totally without flaws, but just isn't as interesting as the preceding two pale 'n' hoppy fellas.

I'll admit to not expecting much from Hook Island Red. The 6% ABV was sending me warning signals about cloying toffee and caramel flavours. Thankfully I was completely wrong in my prejudices. While it does have a significant toffee component, it's balanced by and blended with big fresh and resinous hops. The inclusion of rye adds a spicy complexity before a smooth fruity finish packed with ripe strawberries. It can be difficult to impress with a malt-heavy red ale, but this one gets excellent use out of all its ingredients.

And lastly, from the bottle, comes Brickfield Brown Ale, a very welcome addition in these brown-ale-starved parts. I like the masses of chocolate in this but did not appreciate the carbonation. It was far too fizzy and that created a dryness which tragically almost cancels out the sweeter features. Here's one that would definitely benefit from cask dispense. As-is, I don't really feel I got to taste it properly.

A huge thanks to Francesca from Five Points and everyone who put the night together.

A short while later, it was the turn of Gipsy Hill Brewery, newly brought to Dublin under the auspices of the Carlow Brewing Company. They occupied a few of the taps at L. Mulligan Grocer to introduce themselves.

We began with Beatnik, a pale ale at just 3.8% ABV. It doesn't seem like a lightweight, however, beginning with the alluring grapefruit-and-weed aroma. The flavour goes big on hops too, reminding me a little of that other low-octane, high-impact beaut Fyne Ales's Jarl. On draught I found it a bit thin, the hops turning harsh and acidic without enough body to support them. That was less of an issue with a slightly warmer can later on: here there was an almost sticky layer of malt candy and plenty of substance. In both, the finish is quick, setting up the next mouthful. Overall a very decent hoppy banger and well suited to sessioning.

The middle child is Southpaw, an amber ale. There was something slightly off-putting about the aroma here, a certain plasticky quality. That translates to a harsh unsubtle bitterness in the foretaste, one which only gets a little balance from the toffee malt. The underlying issue may be that it's a mere 4.2% ABV, which doesn't provide enough gravity to carry the substantial hop charge. It feels a little watery in the middle, and then the finish is a rough acidic burn. This seems to be an amber ale afraid of its true nature and unwilling to turn up the crystal malt. It would be a better beer if it did.

Last of the core beers on offer was Hepcat session IPA, strongest so far at a whopping 4.6% ABV. No qualms about the body here: it's lovely and big and fluffy, bringing some seriously herbal grassy dankness and savoury caraway seed with it. Just before it goes completely serious there's a delightful burst of fresh mango and pineapple, lightening everything up, before it's back to the grass for the bitter finish. While it has some features in common with Beatnik there's more going on, as I guess befits the higher strength. It's still easy drinking and wonderfully refreshing, fulfilling the session role perfectly.

Two tall-can specials were also on the go, beginning with Simcoe, another low-strength pale ale, this time only 3.6% ABV. It has amazing body for all that, plenty to carry all of the hop. And there's a lot of hop, beginning with a gorgeous stonefruit aroma, all peaches and apricot. My first impression on tasting was of a smooth and dry beer, with a strong mineral component. The hops emerge here first as fruity chew sweets, then gradually turning bitterer, providing a lovely kick for a finish. Simcoe is not usually my favourite hop, but whatever they've done here to tame it really calms down its harsher tendencies.

Doyen is a collaboration with Fuller's. This IPA is another dry one, with a kind of celery cooked-veg flavour at first. The middle brings a bigger hit of marmalade, something I very much associate with Fuller's, particularly in beers like Bengal Lancer and Oliver's Island. It doesn't have a whole lot to say beyond that, which would normally be fine except that it's 6.5% ABV, a point where I think it's fair to expect greater complexity, or at least a bigger flavour. It's quite an anodyne beer, overall, and not as special as I'd hoped for.

The following day I trekked over to Urban Brewing where Gipsy Hill's JT was doing a collaboration brew. On bar was Haymaker, a pilsner. They've used German hops in this, but the more modern fruit-forward ones, and the result is enormously fruity. Juicy peach and summer strawberries are the main act, while there's almost zero bitterness. I felt aggrieved that it didn't taste like a proper pils for almost a minute, before I settled into it and began to really enjoy the pint in front of me. The beautiful soft texture makes it extremely quaffable and I can imagine it as a perfect outdoorsy summer beer.

Thanks this time to the O'Hara's, Gipsy Hill and Mulligan's folks. Plenty of really solid ungimmicky drinking here. I'd love if Dublin's brewers were able to return the favour in London.

09 March 2018

Going up in the world

I do love the way good beer bars become nexus points for the world of beer, beyond what they actually stock and sell. The places that develop a reputation for being the go-to pubs for international beer travellers often pick up interesting odds and sods that said travellers bring to share. So it happened that I got to try these two from South America, kindly shared by the management in UnderDog late last year.

The first is Brazilian, from the Amazon Brewery in Belém. Forest Bacuri is named after its signature ingredient, the bacuri, a small citrus fruit native to the area. The beer is just 3.8% ABV so plainly designed for easy-going refreshment, and that's pretty much what it delivers. There's a floral and mineral bathsalts aroma, and a flavour along similar lines: lavender flowers, then Berocca or other soluble vitamin tablets. There's not a whole lot going on beyond that, but it's clean and smooth, and not at all the sugary alcopop I suspected a Brazilian fruit beer would be.

The other was a very different proposition. Cerveza Artesanal Duham is in western Argentina and Duham Barleywine is a beast of 10.5% ABV. Unfortunately it doesn't do much with all that alcoholic potential. The aroma is a musty crêpe-paper thing while it tastes vaguely of caramel and very little else. Overall it's quite inoffensive, with no nasty booze heat or unpleasant solvents, but it's unforgivably plain too: a recipe that needs something done to punch it up, whether that's extra hops or a more exciting yeast, or something else.

It's always nice to get a glimpse of what's going on in an unfamiliar beer scene, however unrepresentative it may be. Suitcase beers like these are invaluable to the nosy but lazy like me.

07 March 2018

Festival prep

A final look at assorted new-release Irish beers ahead of the Alltech festival which opens at the Convention Centre tomorrow and runs to Saturday.

Rascals will be there, and the latest one I had from them was Wit or Witout Woo. As the name suggests, it's a re-imagining of Wit Woo, the witbier in the original Rascals line-up back in 2014. I do miss that beer, and this intensified the longing as it's superb. It opens on an aroma popping with cardamom and ground black pepper, moving on to a flavour packed with fresh leafy coriander but no trace of soapiness. A bitter cloudy lemonade hit arrives in the finish. This is a pure classic witbier: clean, bold and highly refreshing. More please.

YellowBelly aren't at the festival but it's hard to do these round-ups without at least one of theirs creeping in. Today it's three, beginning at Yellowsub Machine, a pale ale brewed with the titular German hop composition. It's a hazy orange colour, and very bitterly pithy to begin. There's lots of Teutonic herbal greenness, almost turning to a more west-coast dank. This is followed by a softer juicy mandarin quality. It's almost great, except for a yeasty gak that interferes with the hop profile, and a watery finish that arrives too soon. As-is, it's fine as a 5% ABV middle-of-the-road pinter, but lacks any wow factor.

For more chance of wow I turned to InterDimensional, the first release in YellowBelly's beer club series. It's a dry-hopped sour ale made with TNT and Vic Secret. The juice quotient from the latter hop is off the charts, beyond its usual chew sweets and into full blown tropical breakfast juice. The sourness, in turn, is explosively puckering, making the whole thing an exhausting workout for the palate. Wow indeed. Sour and hoppy is kinda my thing, and at 4.7% ABV this ought to be refreshing and sessionable, but the front-loaded intensity made it too much hard work for my liking, and there's a rough and dry yeast burr as well. I opened it on the day of delivery so maybe a little time is needed to help it settle down. Good job they sent me four.

YellowBelly also had a new session IPA, which I found at Underdog as it reopened after last week's snow crisis. Perhaps appropriately it's called Post Ahopalypse and it's a little on the strong side for the style at 5% ABV. The appearance is striking: opaque orange with an almost peachy glow. Alas, the yeast bites hard in this one, with a dry cracker savoury quality dominant from the start. Paradoxically, the hop character emerges more as it warms, and I was treated to hints of juicy jaffa and a sterner lime and grapefruit bitterness. They're not prominent, unfortunately, and never quite cover up the earthy yeast grit.

It's almost surprising that C&C aren't exhibiting at Alltech. They've been quietly expanding their faux craft Dowd's Lane range to include two new beers. Neither had really passed my way until I chanced upon the IPA, 12 O'Clock Mass, on the shelves at Dunnes. The design is striking: a matt-black can with silvery illustrations superimposed with stark white all-caps: all very much the look of a big well-funded brewery trying to get down with the kids. Though it mentions the historical Magner's Cidery, there's no mention that it's from the same company. There's also some unpleasant guff about it being based on recipes from the 18th century brewery that occupied the site beforehand. Guys, please, no.

It's a light 4.5% ABV and a cheery clear gold colour. There's a Lucozade aroma, all sticky syrup and artificial fruit, though not unpleasant. The flavour intensifies that: lurid chew sweets, cheap perfume and overpowering air freshener. It's IPA from the replicator, or brewed by someone who had never tasted one. It's not offensive, it's not bland, but it's not very good either, unbalanced in its sweetness and lacking freshness or zing. Perhaps the stalwart brewers of Georgian-era Murphy's of Clonmel would have approved, but my tastes run more modern.

You will find 12 Acres at the festival, and just ahead of it they released their latest seasonal beer, Farmer's Tan. Officially described as an American brown ale, I'm told that the recipe started out as a black IPA and I can completely see how. In fact, I'm not sure the designation needed to be changed. Yes, it is brown rather than black, but darkly so -- in the light of most pubs you wouldn't notice the difference. The flavour opens with a riot of C-hops, turning out bitter grapefruit and sweet Refresher chews. A sprinkle of coffee-like roast follows, as well as a slight astringency in the finish. This, and a certain thinness of body, are the only weak points in what is otherwise a fantastic beer: punchy and invigorating, tasting properly dark but roaring with all the fun hops too.

The new one from Galway Bay also goes big on hops. Weights + Measures is 3.9% ABV and murky yellow, so I'm guessing is something like a relative of the Croozer session IPA they released last summer. Here it's Citra hops doing all the work, which is normally a cue for big bitterness but this is all about the juice. I got freshly-squeezed orange juice from the outset, and then a smack of thicker vanilla in the tail, making me wonder if some lactose has been included. The aroma is more typically Citra, being all freshly zested lemon. For a light and relatively cheap single hopper, this has a lot going on in it. I'll be happy if it hangs around a while.

Ballykilcavan Brewing will be making its Dublin début at the festival, with a new beer. Their own brewery is still under preparation and I caught up with their first release recently on a visit to the brewery which produces it: Kildare Brewing in Sallins. More on that excursion in a later post. Bin Bawn is a pale ale, and quite a dark one: a handsome shade of medium amber. It doesn't go all-out for hops, hitting more of a traditional English vibe: smooth of texture with a light toffee base and some red apple fruit tones. The best feature is a tannic dryness, lending it the feel of a cup of strong black tea, with all the quenching refreshment that comes with. This is a rock-solid quaffing beer, and well built for the session at 4.6% ABV.

Brand new to the market is Crafty Bear Brewing, working from the Third Barrel brewery. Bear Beer one is Tastes Like Sumt'n: a straight-up IPA at 6% ABV. It's a darkish amber colour and slightly murky with it. The aroma is a lovely blend of orange fruit, Christmas spices and dry minerals, old school yet bright and fresh. It tastes heavy and funky, packed with greasy resins. The mineral side is strongly accentuated, adding to the hop bitterness, so a sip starts on summer fruit, sails past oily winter herbs, and builds to quite a harsh metallic tang. It's unquestionably rough, lacking any subtleties, but it also has bucketloads of hops, which earns it my forgiveness. In a world that increasingly seems to have forgotten that new IPAs should be bitter, this offers a very stark reminder.

Carrig Brewing will have a a stand at the festival and if they've any sense they'll be pouring their recent triumph Hop Bomb. The follow-up is Starwolf, a pale and hazy IPA of 5.5% ABV offering an odd mix of the bitter and sweet. It opens on a hard lime tang, and this is quickly followed by sweet New-Englandesque vanilla. All the way through the pint, this tension continues, each side almost rising to dominate the other but never quite managing it. A creamy coconut flavour is the closest they come to melding together. Despite the loud clashing, it all works quite well: the beer is tasty and pretty much balanced, albeit in a slightly peculiar way. I picked up a little yeast dirt, but the hopping is extreme enough to prevent that from compromising the overall flavour too much. Another great draught special from Carrig.

Our final exhibitor is Wicklow Wolf, bringing Born 'N Bread, the first in a new series of limited-run beers. It's a brown bread and marmalade stout, which I guess puts it on the more mature, grown-up, side of the pastry stout spectrum. There's something a little unfinished-looking about it: the murky brown colour and token head which quickly fades to nothing. There is enough of a sparkle to it, and the texture is decently full, befitting an oatmeal stout of 5.5% ABV. The marmalade effect (achieved using orange and vanilla extracts) doesn't hang around, jumping straight out of the aroma as a sweet and oily Seville orange waft, Terry-fied by additional dark chocolate. On tasting it's orange novelties right from the start, zesty and sugary, like candied peel. The heavier dark malt sits behind this but is never fully expressed, fading to a slightly harsh burnt acridity in the end. Whatever contribution the wholemeal flour made, I couldn't pick up on it. This is much more of a wacky novelty beer than the sombre packaging suggests. It is quite nice to drink, once you're used to it, however. A little more emphasis on the chocolate malt side might have improved it.

If you're hitting the Convention Centre at any point this weekend, whatever you're drinking, have a wonderful time and I may see you there.

05 March 2018

Drumming up business

On a free weekday afternoon in early January I took a spin up to Dundrum. I stopped by Deveney's off licence and also had a swift Vietnow in the new P. Mac's attached to the shopping centre. But the main reason for the excursion was to try a few of the exclusive beers pouring at Brickyard.

The house beer is called Brick Red and is brewed by O Brother. Red ale at 4.2% ABV is not, I'm sure, intended to induce yelps of amazement, and indeed this doesn't. It is pretty good though. There's no cheap watery thinness and certainly no clunking sugary toffee. While sweet, that comes from a fresh strawberry and raspberry flavour, finishing cleanly, aided by a soft soda effervescence. Solidly sessionable and accessible house beers are something I associate more with pubs taking a chance on one independent draught option so I found it a little odd that there's one here among the 23 other taps. I'm sure it has a following with the regulars, though, and might even persuade them to explore further.

Brickyard seems to be a kind of unofficial brewery tap for local brewer Priory, and had exclusive rights over Priory Red IPA, their second release. This was created via the we-got-the-wrong-sort-of-malt-by-mistake method of recipe development. It's more of a dark orange colour than actual red, and I didn't get any redness in the flavour -- no toffee or caramel, and no summer fruits this time. Instead there's a beautifully juicy mandarin foretaste, followed by a pinch of caraway seed in the finish. It's another smooth-textured one too, very easy drinking for the substantial 5.9% ABV. Two good red beers in a row: what are the odds?

A final new tick for me was Snakey One IPA by Bog Hopper in Donegal. I haven't been impressed with their beers so far, but this one was getting good press so I was prepared to give it plenty of the benefit of the doubt. Alas it suffers from the same rough dirty quality that most of the rest of the range do, like they've been homebrewed without proper temperature control or maturation time. It is mostly clear, so certainly isn't murky soup, but I got a nasty twang of rubber in the foretaste, burying what little citrus character it had beneath it. While I can't pinpoint any specific technical flaw it just tasted not right, and especially not for an IPA.

Should you happen to be out Dundrum/Balally way, Brickyard is a must. I'm probably the last beer drinker on the southside to point this out.