US college football came to Dublin a few weeks ago, involving a full calendar of American festivities. Rye River opted to make at least one of the teams feel at home by shipping in a load of beers from the SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta. I suppose the visiting Bostonians had to make do with Samuel Adams brewed in Kent. Anyhoo, a couple of days before the game Rye River took over the upstairs of The Mercantile on Dame Street and held a celebration of SweetWater, with games and food and copious quantities of free beer. As part of my duty to you, the reader, I felt obliged to go along.
Four beers were on the go and I started on 420, the brewery's "extra" pale ale, that epithet referring, I assume, to the somewhat overcharged ABV of 5.7%. It's one of those beers that starts wafting hop volatiles at you even when it's still being poured. There's nothing more exciting than Centennial and Cascade in this but it broadcasts a soft peachiness that's very much in line with present-day American hopped pale ales. The flavour is simple and sweet, reminding me of nothing so much as Juicy Fruit chewing gum. The texture is light enough so that the sweetness doesn't build, despite a very low level of hop bitterness. I found it finishes a little bit watery which helps ensure drinkability but I would expect more substance at 5.7% ABV, regardless of how well-hidden that strength is. Overall, though, a very nice hoppy sessioner.
Weirdo of the bunch was Blue, a wheat beer with added blueberries. It's only 4.6% ABV and arrives a clear pale shade of yellow. But what it lacks in blueberry appearance it makes up for in blueberry taste and smell: it's absolutely roaring with the things, smelling like a muffin and tasting like blueberry pop. I was expecting some level of wheatiness but there's really very little else going on: it's another sweet and simple light beer. Fortunately I really like the flavour of blueberries so I got a kick out of its bouncy silliness. Your mileage may vary.
I decided to go for the brown ale next but by the time I got to the bar the supplies had run out. Nothing for it, then, but skip ahead to SweetWater IPA. Feedback around the room on this was quite negative, I found, and I'd set myself up for a disappointment. But there isn't a thing wrong with this beer. I suspect its only failing is that it's not how IPAs tend to be brewed these days, by the fashionista brewers, at least. It's 6.3% ABV and a pale golden colour. The aroma is sharp rather than fruity: a mix of lemon sherbet and a waxy acidity. Zip, zing and zest are all absent from the flavour, replaced by a heavy and serious dank. It's an unctuous and oily hop bomb with a hard and very grown-up bitterness. If all those tropical IPAs have left your lupulin threshold in need of a shift, this is the lad that'll do it.
Does the Irish speciality beer market need another core range from an American craft brewer in it? I dunno. Rye River is certainly having no trouble making hoppy delights with the beatings of any of these. But I'll always vote for something I've never had before and perhaps I'm not alone among Irish drinkers there.
Thanks to Niall, Alan, Alex, Simon and all the Rye River crew for a fun night out. Go sports!
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