Thursday, 19 May 2016

#319: Standing to Attention

A few from the Kernel were a nice surprise to stock, terribly briefly as can be imagined, at work, and among the six we had were these three pale ales and an IPA.

First is the Pale Ale Chinook Amarillo. I'm not surprised to see that this is hazy, almost murky even, but there's not a hint of untidiness to be sniffed or tasted; what you get is juicy bittersweet orange and mandarin that's clean but surprisingly short-lived. The bitterness, however, lingers for a long time, and the lasting impact is of a bright, fresh experience.

Even better is the Chinook Zeus Citra; this one is even juicier and brighter, even fresher, even if it's still murky as hell.
There's dark, sharp orange zest that plays sweet and tingly with the bitterness - it's fun, expressive, stuff that is ridiculously easy to drink.

Cascade Chinook is next up, and, despite being the same age as the other two, seems blander and nowhere near as fun. Still, it's hard to resist the waves of bittersweet citrus and slick, refreshing malt body. 

The last hoppy pale of the range is the IPA Amarillo Mosaic. It's stinky - aromatic, one might say - and, once again, gives plenty of citrus. It's not as clean as the others; there's a woody, wet hay thing that interrupts the juicy hop nose and the slicker, thicker, higher ABV feel of it makes it more of a sipper than the rest.

Those four make up most of the range that passed through the shop and their nature made drinking fresh an imperative. The other two, an Export Stout and a Porter, are yet to come.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

#318: Galway BayFest

OK, not a true festival, obviously, but a recent Galway Bay tap takeover at the Bierhaus felt pretty festive to me, even if I was mean and stuck to the limited editions, ignoring the core range yet again.

Not that I'm having any doubts about whether or not that was a good idea, because it absolutely was.
It begins with Heathen, a(nother) black Berliner weisse. Handed to me in black and tan, it is an exceptionally light body to begin with, except for a brief flash of something fuller and creamier in the grist. There's sharp acidic sandpaper on the tongue with plenty of that grist but no blackness to speak of - this is all relatively bright on the flavour spectrum, even if it does lack a hoppy seasoning to go along with it. There's lots of fizz, a blink, and it's gone. It's not often that I'd compare beer to water in a good way but this is a stupidly refreshing, incredibly drinkable and rather plain beer that puts itself away pretty fast. That might not be enough for those who demand more flavour, but at 3.5%, I could find enough wheat-supported citric acid to let this beer flow fast and fun.

303 is step up in the flavour department, billed as a tart pale ale. There's plenty more citrus to the fore of this one, though more bitter and less sour than the Heathen, as you'd expect. Sherbety lemon curd, lime zest and pithy bitterness do a good job of cushioning and balancing what acidic sourness there is, before the thing turns surprisingly herbal in the middle. In fact, I don't know what sort of profile the Azacca hops were supposed to bring to the table but for me there's a crunchy green coarseness throughout that doesn't allow much of the pungent fruit I was expecting to shine through. It's tasty, but it's less drinkable than the Heathen (again, a for a beer with more flavour and more alcohol that's not surprising) and doesn't quite hit the hoppy sour heights of either Trolltunga or Sky Mountain for me.

An even bigger step up in every department was required to reach the Two Hundred Fathoms pouring from keg. This year's edition it was, and oof is this a different beast on tap or what?
My first note is a scrawled 'ridiculous' that I remember being my only contribution for the first few minutes. This is pure, melted dark and milk chocolate mousse territory, pulling you through the rich, creamy, boozy stuff and all the way out the other side to fatty. This year's bottled version had plenty of oaky vanilla and whiskey hiding the background, but here, the vanilla has a fuller, sweeter Madagascan vanilla ice cream effect. With time the initial, intense, dark chocolate hit sinks into the rest of the beer to become real life, unashamed milk chocolate that I just can't get over. What I also can't get over is the very finish where it tastes, briefly, like barley malt extract, reminding you that, as dessert-like as it is, this is still a beer and it still tastes like one. 

Just a big, full, filling one that you wish you could have year round. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

#317: Easterfest 2016

We start May on the Destrier in the same way we finished that distant geological age of March in real life; at the Franciscan Well Easterfest.

As is customary with this sort of thing, the visit was brief and to-the-point, and on this occasion, meant that I found myself lingering for the entirety of said visit in the far corner of the garden-spanning L-shaped bar.
I Am A Berliner

Not to worry, though, because here is where I found UCC's Pilot Brewery, who only show up to this event every year, and they were pouring the perfect starter. I Am A Berliner is a delicious dark Berliner weisse that does give flashes of dark malt and milky smoothness to accompany an otherwise straightforward clean, lactic acid attack, with a bigger body than its joyous 2.9% deserves. Good stuff.

Turning to my left I got to try a Kinnegar special that has managed to evade me in the past and that I have renewed interest in, thanks to Yankee. In truth, White Rabbit has nothing like the drinkability of that beer but is an interesting sipper nonetheless, with big, coarse wheaty stuff opening for spicy, crunchy, herbal bitterness that tells of lupuline effort which, for me, doesn't reach any New World fruit expression fast enough.

Rotating to the right, I find myself facing Trouble Brewing's bar. Trouble have been churning out some seriously punchy hoppy stuff on draught for the past year or two and with a passionfruit lager on the go, appeared intent on continuing this theme at the festival. Last Crash it's called, and it immediately and unsurprisingly smells of sweet fruit juice; passionfruit, yes, but also a more-pleasant-than-it-sounds strawberry syrup and raspberry. It's light and fresh for all this, so it doesn't go anywhere close to the sort of sugary cloying effect you might expect from reading my notes. In fact, the finish turns with a tang to fullsome grain and slightly husky lemon bitters, gleefully mopping up any residual sugar and drying it out before it does anything it might regret. This is a refreshing fruit bomb, and not at all in the way that I expected from Trouble.
Now in the mood to stay at this section of bar, I go for Evil Robot, Trouble's American amber of the day, and I'm treated to a big American nose; sharp and zesty citrus to the fore but to taste it's a more round, slick and well-textured experience. What strikes me is the full on, intense and almost raw way in which this beer shows off its hops - this is green, bitter and leafy to go along with the juicy fruit, and while it isn't as sure-footed and expressive as some of Trouble's better recent output it certainly makes you stand up and pay attention.

Taken aback some, I return next door to the shelter of UCC's exclusively old-world stylings where I find one of my favourite styles under the name Gael Marzen Beoir. Ostensibly a Märzen, it pours pale yellow-gold and is utterly wonderful. To put it simply: clean straw with a touch of malty golden syrup sweetness before a bright, ever so slightly bitter finish. There's no clunky malt, no pillowy grain, no marshmallow doughiness, just a refreshing, respectable clean lager that could just as well pass for a very good (if a bit full) Helles. More satisfying, tasty stuff from UCC, and probably my standout beer of the day. I knew at this point I'd be back, but not before working up the ABV scale.


To that end I venture south to find Metalman's Spring saison brewed with lemon peel, thyme and pink peppercorns. If that sounds weird - yes, it is pretty weird. Not wholly unpleasant to be fair, but I prefer my saisons dry and thirst-quenching, not tasting like glycerine honey and lemon. 

Beside this is the Metalman's new IPA, Ironmonger. A dark coppery red, this doesn't immediately look the part of my kind of IPA, a fear realised on tasting; it's heavily malty and quite bitter throughout, but lacks any meaningful hop expression. Disappointing from the brewer behind plenty of good hoppy beer.

From there to Whiplash, the new brand from Alex Lawes, brewer of good hoppy stuff from Rye River. Before we get to the hoppy stuff, though, Scaldy Porter. At 5.5% this shouldn't be as rich and thick as it is; blackstrap molasses on the nose with a big palate of coffee, dark chocolate and coarse, dry bitterness to finish. It's a sipper that's easy to appreciate but hard to love.
Easier to love is Surrender to the Void, a DIPA of 8.5%. It's got sweet and juicy pineapple and mango in spades, alongside bittersweet mandarin and orange skins - delicious. There's a savoury turn right at the finish and, while there's no real heat from the ABV, there's a slick, slightly sticky body that for me, discourages over enthusiastic sipping to get to that juicy centre. Still, very good stuff from a brewery (own kit to come) I look forward to seeing more of.

And finally, we finish where we began, back at the students' hangout with the UCC Pilot Brewery and their Season of the Witch saison. At 8.7% it's well above what I'd usally like for the style but thankfully drinks well for that strength. Still, there's a touch too much syrupy sweetness, while the wheaty, grainy body is just about right. Low esters and flashes of lemon add some spice to proceedings. 
On that good, if quiet, note, it was time to call it a day.