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. 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.

02 March 2018

Marching onwards

Another month is upon us and it's time for another random assortment of Irish beer. We'll start in the pub, but none of my usual haunts. One evening in January I found myself in the north east corner of Dublin with a bit of time on my hands. I decided to drop into Brú House Fairview, the Meath brewery's footprint in the capital. It's a well-appointed pub with comfy bar stools and high baquettes along the narrow bar space at the front. Obviously the selection runs big on Brú's own beers and there were two available that I hadn't had before.

Brú House 43 isn't the first independent Irish beer to take a swipe at Diageo's Hop House 13 with its branding, though it is the closest effort at a clone. It's a bright and happy clear gold colour and instead of HH13's soft fruit goes for a more assertive perfume and incense vibe, bringing a properly invigorating bitterness. It's nicely light and very drinkable, though did have a bit of a funky aftertaste which I didn't care for. That wasn't enough to spoil things and I was happy at the end of my glassful. Were I a regular I might see myself drinking more of this.

I was intrigued, however, by Brú Pilsner, another one which only exists in draught form. This is a mere 3.5% ABV, which is an odd niche for a microbrewed lager to occupy. It arrived looking hazy and unfinished and tasted disturbingly tart: lemon juice to be charitable, but with definite overtones of vinegar as well. There's also the crunchy grain of many a brewpub lager, and overall, while not a terrible beer, it doesn't taste proficiently brewed, and certainly not for a pils.

Down closer to town I stopped by Grainger's, opposite Connolly Station. It wasn't my first time in this old school boozer with a strong beer game, but it was the first time hunting a new beer, namely The Maverick Goose, recently released by obvious Top Gun fans Wood Key Brewing. A session IPA of 3.7% ABV, it arrived a hazy pale yellow colour and exuding a lovely fresh lemon zest aroma. The flavour is firmly in the bathroom cabinet, or possibly the male grooming aisle, mixing up talc, pomade and aftershave balm: a heady fragrant blend of perfumes and herbs, set against more serious cedar and frankincense spicing. There's an awful lot going on for the strength, yet it's not busy or overdone in any way. It's also light without being watery: summery, refreshing and clean. Maverick indeed. Well played, Wood Key.

Onto more regular turf next, and a YellowBelly beer in UnderDog. Sourglass is their latest (at time of writing) sour fruit beer, a bit of a lightweight at just 4% ABV. It packs plenty of punch, however: a jarring tartness which hits the teeth first then works backwards. Behind it comes a typical Berliner weisse waterbiscuit husk, and then a contrasting fruit sweetness, tasting mostly like peach nectar to me, though the fruit involved are lemons, pears and passionfruit, not that I was able to pick any of those out. The sourness calms down after a moment or two, and the blend of flavours reminds me a lot of the brewery's classic Castaway, with maybe the tartness pushed up a notch and the juicy fruit down a couple. However you slice it, it is very tasty, putting YellowBelly back on form after a couple of lacklustre efforts.

To Urban Brewing next. Their third release of 2018 was Tropical Storm, a 4.1% ABV pale ale that falls into that insidious trap of using the T-word without tasting of banging amounts of sweet and juicy fruits. It did look like Um Bongo, at least: a bright opaque orange. The flavour, however, is all gritty and earthy yeast dregs. This does give it some pleasant spices, but not enough to compensate, and there's very little discernible hop character at all, beyond mild and very untropical orange aroma and flavour.

The next release was for Valentine's Day: Aphrodisiac stout, brewed with cacao, chilli and oysters. I was intrigued. What I was served was slightly sad looking: a flat and murky-brown pint. The chocolate really dominates it, sweet and milky, with hazelnut overtones. By way of balance there's an extreme ash-dry finish. I had to go looking for the oysters and I think I did detect a certain saltiness, though no more than you'd typically find in ordinary milk chocolate. The chilli is very shy, only building enough to be tasted at the very end. Overall it's a decent chocolate stout, if not really as exciting as the description implied.

Two new Irish New Englands also arrived simultaneously in mid-February, both showing up on the taps at Alfie Byrne's on the same evening. I tried Eight Degrees's Neon Velvet first, an accessible 5%-er, with added kiwi and lime. A murky orange colour, it opens with a soft fluffy texture, in accordance with the genre. After that there's a strange dish-soap taste, present in the aroma as well, which I'm guessing is down to the citrus addition. That develops into the centrepiece of the flavour: a full-on green bitterness, like cabbage or spinach: untypical for the style but highly enjoyable. The more predictable vanilla and garlic only began creeping in as the pint warmed, and they sat uncomfortably beside the punchiness. While I did enjoy the beer, it does seem to be neither one thing nor the other, the flavours not quite integrated into a coherent whole. Maybe I needed a second pint to get the measure of it properly, but there was another beer to try.

Rascals has embarked on a trilogy of New England style beers, named "759" after their respective ABVs. Seven, the IPA in the middle, was the first out. Marks off for clarity, to begin: this was a see-thorough golden colour. It smells of Mikado biscuits, pink marshmallow and coconut. and then it is bizarrely thin and dry, almost the opposite of what New England thingies are meant to be. The flavour is a squeaky-leek greenness, with a little bitterness but not much else. Most of all it taste wrung-out and over processed, like the substance has been filtered or aged out of it. I'm minded to give the canned version a shot as this might be just an issue with the draught edition, but I wouldn't be confident it's as the brewer intended.

To 57 The Headline next, one of a handful of pubs to receive the second beer in Black Donkey's Unhinged series. Pablo's Potion is a coffee IPA, just 5.2% ABV and surprisingly pale: a medium yellow-amber colour. It tastes crisp and dry at first, like a pilsner, before exploding with fresh coffee, all sweetly dessertish. That's suddenly joined by hop fruit of the mango and peach variety, before a dry dark-roast coffee finish. It's all quite a rollercoaster, fast and fun with several thrilling and unexpected twists. And yet it's still a very well-made beer at its core, if a smidge over-carbonated. Gimmickry is a lot more forgivable when cleanly done like this.

The supermarket beer war rumbles on. Aldi had been lagging behind its rivals  in my estimation, largely on hop grounds. Their new ace in the hole is O'Shea's IPA, presumably   brewed at Carlow Brewing like the rest of the O'Shea's range. It's a full 5% ABV and a very handsome clear copper shade. Fresh banging hops? Sadly, no, not really. There's a tight, somewhat astringent, bitterness: a pinch of lemon essence and marmalade shred suggesting that English IPA is the vernacular they've chosen. That might lead one to expect some chewy malt but it's surprisingly thin, with a soda-water mineral texture. Like the other O'Shea's ales this is is fine but not very exciting. Aldi is still playing second fiddle where hops are concerned.

Prism is the last of the Clearsky range I have to try. The others weren't great, so I wasn't in a rush, but a set is a set, and it needed completing. This is a red ale of 4.5% ABV. It poured clearly with no sediment in the bottle, so can't possibly have been bottle conditioned, in which case there's absolutely no excuse for it being almost completely flat. There's just the faintest of sparkle and the lack of fizz really harms the flavour. Laughably, the label mentions tropical fruit, but there's none of that. It's understandably malt-forward, tasting predominantly of dry cereal, Bran Flakes, in particular. There are some fun subtleties behind this, hints of dark chocolate, strawberries, and a peppercorn spicing, but this is where the carbonation should have come in to lift them forward. A a whole, the beer is fine for a red ale but with a little tweaking could be exceptional.

The eagerly awaited second beer from Dead Centre Brewing is called </sourcecode> and is a pale ale. Brewing is still happening at St Mel's, though the brewery build project is in progress. It's a completely clear medium-amber colour and smells sharply lemonish at first -- hello Citra -- with a sweeter cake aroma coming in behind it. The carbonation is very light, almost imperceptible unless you let it sit on the tongue for a while. Hop no. 2 is Cascade and it dominates the foretaste, with its earthy, sweaty, almost metallic, bitter punch. Mosaic is the final one, and it's harder to find. There's maybe a mild stonefruit note lurking in the background, but the Cascade keeps it quiet. Its malt base is soft and smooth, but allows the hops to be the main act. The finish is long, and probably the most bitter part of the experience, scorching the back of the palate slightly. I'm reminded of classic balanced pale ales like Sierra Nevada's here, and it's all the more impressive for achieving that at just 4% ABV. Obviously, avant garde branding and 440ml cans is the way Dead Centre has chosen to go, but I'd still love to sit down with a proper pint of this from the cask. I reckon it would really suit that.

Barrel aged imperial black IPA is a brand new variant of a variant for me. This one was created by DOT for top Dublin offie Martin's of Fairview and is called The Portrait Project. It pours smooth and flat; jet black showing murky brown with the light behind it. The aroma speaks of classic black IPA: that mix of roast and citrus, with a subtle bonus herbal complexity behind it. It tastes of grapefruit first, the bitterness intensifying, veering to raw green cabbage then finally tar. That sounds unpleasant, but it's lovely -- all punchy and assertive without turning harsh. There's a smoothness to it which I'm guessing is the barrel at work, and a sour lime effect which suggested bourbon to me straight away. The barrel's influence is little more than decorative and this is very much a clean and uncomplicated hop-forward dark beer, probably not one for ageing any further. Rumours of black IPA's demise continue to be exaggerated, thankfully.

And if it's not barrel aged and black, it's Double Heather Sour Ale. This is the latest in the sour series from Lough Gill. Double is right: 9% ABV and tasting every bit of it. It's more bitter than sour, harshly waxy with a metallic finish, like the more severe sort of English bitter. Most of all, however, it's heavy, packed with chewy malt which totally destroys the clean-edge sharpness that sour beers do well. There's stale brown bread, old sweat, and lies lies lies. It comes down to this: there's no heather, none of the promised floral qualities, and while it's definitely big and strong, it's not in a good way. This is a beer that needs to chill out and calm down. Strong and sour is tough and I don't think Lough Gill is up to pulling it off yet. Try a dark one next.

To conclude, for now, there was a new bottled beer by Costellos for the winter, though it was late February by the time it reached me. Fireside is a "snug", "indulgent" porter at 4.6% ABV. It looks black, showing a clear shade of ruby when held up to the light. There's roasted grains in spades from the outset, dry though not harsh, accompanied by a strong bitterness and lots of tongue-scrubbing bubbles. It takes a moment before some chocolate emerges but it doesn't hang around long. The hops come back at the end, providing a long vegetal finish. I liked it: it's classical and no-nonsense, grown-up and free from candyish gimmicks. I wouldn't say it's particularly wintery though, needing a few more ABV points and a higher finishing gravity for that. If there's any left by summertime it'll still make a great warm day refresher, however.

That's all I have space for now, but I'll try and squeeze a few more new Irish releases in ahead of Alltech Brews & Food next week.

28 February 2018

When in Cork

Bookending the visit to the Franciscan Well's Cask Ales & Strange Brews festival, which I covered on Monday, I dropped by a couple of other Cork boozers for a few swift ones.

Coming off the bus before noon I had a hunger that only a Wetherspoon breakfast could fix. The Linen Weaver had a fairly decent selection of cask on and I picked, more or less randomly, Scrum Down by Conwy Brewery, hoping it wouldn't be as poor as seasonal Six Nations tie-in ales from the UK tend to be. It wasn't. It's actually superb, a fresh and spritzy lemon number, served beautifully cool. Invigorating citrus bitters introduce it, and then there's a sweeter, softer, apricot flavour in the middle. It was a perfect post-travel refresher but I could see how, at 4% ABV, it would work brilliantly as a matchtime quaffer. But I didn't have time for that sort of thing.

Around the corner to Rising Sons, for a go of their Old Town altbier. It's getting to be a long time since I last had a genuine alt, but aren't they supposed to be brown? This one is oddly a golden colour. Both flavour and aroma are all perfume and biscuits, only one of which is normal for the style. I got a bathsalts blend of lavender, violet and assorted aromatic herbs, all set on a clean base with grainy oatcake overtones. It's tasty and refreshing, but really not what I was expecting from an altbier.

On the way to the train I dropped by the Abbot's Alehouse to check out its new transformation. The ground floor off licence is gone, now turned into a bar.

From the blackboard I selected Gladiator, a pale ale by White Gypsy. The brewery tends to be known for its aversion to big hop flavours, but this one packs a serious punch. A mix of Citra with Styrian Fox gives it a very real grapefruit taste, sharp and astringent: a proper enamel stripper. It's only 4.5% ABV so I can imagine getting comfortable with it and adjusting to the bitterness, something that would be aided by the soft texture. This is simple fun, but definitely fun nonetheless.

Finally the rare appearance of a new beer by JJ's. Pearl Dubh is a big stout of 7% ABV and has that chocolate breakfast cereal character of processed wheat mixed with sugary cocoa powder. That doesn't sound great but it's pretty decent, the sharp husky edges all smoothed out and the dry and sweet sides balanced harmoniously. It gets filling quite quickly so I was glad to have just a half, as well as a train to run for.

Always a pleasure, Cork.