Hops. Irish brewing.
Hops. Irish brewing.
Hops. Irish brewing.
It pains me to say it, but, traditionally, these two don’t exactly seem to get along.
I bloody love hoppy beers – for me, there’s nothing better than a rush of citrus and tropical madness followed by a slap of lip-puckering bitterness. Unfortunately, getting my hop-on in Ireland has proved somewhat difficult. Although recent years have seen many of Ireland’s up-and-coming craft brewers release a number of citrusy, sessionable pale ales (Metalman Pale Ale and Galway Hooker, for example), that’s about as far as the scene has got to. For myriad possible reasons (which I’ll explore in future blog posts) there seems to be a consensus amongst Irish brewers that the collective palate of the country just isn’t ready for an onslaught of hoppiness. Over the past few years I’ve had to get my kicks from imported India Pale Ales and Double IPAs: these tend to be either American and well past the point of being anywhere near fresh, or Scandinavian (Mikkeller, To Øl, & Nøgne Ø all make cracking hoppy brews) and horrifyingly expensive .
BUT, is change on the horizon?
I’m going to save this first ever Beermack post from being an all-out lupulin-deprived rant by confirming that since the turn of 2013, an increasing number of local brewers have started to throw some hops into the brew kettle. So, in no particular order, here’s four decent hop-forward beers currently available on the Irish market that will go some way to satisfying the cravings of any hopheads out there:
1) Carlow O’Hara’s Double IPA (7.5% ABV)
A Double IPA in Ireland? Problem solved! Well, not quite. Going along with BJCP beer style guides (if you’re that way inclined) clearly exposes this little number as being not anywhere near ‘double’ enough. But, sod the intricacies of styles and names: who cares what’s on the label if the beer in the glass is top notch? Carlow’s recent attempt at a hop-monster is currently on limited release (on draught only) around the country’s good beer bars after gaining some decent reviews at a beer festival earlier this year. It’s copper/amber in the glass, with plenty of caramel on the nose alongside some sprucey pine and grapefruit. On tasting, there’s a decent whack of pine resin and citric bitterness, but lashings of fairly thick cloying toffee covering up lots of the good stuff. Not bad at all: there certainly seems to be a nod to Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA, which is no bad thing. Nothing too ‘double’ about it, but Ireland has got its first legit American-inspired IPA.
2) Galway Bay Voyager NZ IPA (6% ABV)
New Zealand hops. Christ almighty, I love ’em. All that sweet juicy tropical fruit character and delicate floral notes: delicious. Well, there’s nothing too delicate about Galway Bay’s latest seasonal brew! This lad is bitter beyond belief and is, arguably, in need of quite a bit of refinement and fine tuning. Pacifica and Pacific Jade are the hops in question alongside a pale-ish malt body; rather than delicacy, the brewer has gone for an all out assault with plenty of bitter pithy lime and astringent grapefruit. A real smack in the chops. But, if you’re looking for a bitter hop bite then this could hit the spot. It’s on tap in all of the Cottage Group’s pubs now (Against the Grain, Black Sheep, Brew Dock, etc.).
3) Eight Degrees Howling Gale Ale (5% ABV)
An American friend of mine, Kevin, who co-runs a great beer website (http://beerlovescompany.com/) came to Dublin recently and, on having this on tap, described it as being at the same level of Hill Farmstead‘s Edward (for those who don’t know, Hill Farmstead is the number one brewery on Ratebeer, and Edward is their similar-ABV American Pale Ale). Praise indeed! Maybe this was the jetlag talking, or maybe Kevin was just in a good mood that day, but the guy knows his beer and was suitably impressed! When fresh and on tap (Kev was much less enthused by the bottles), I’ve got to admit that Howling Gale is first class – lots of crisp citrus, pine needles, biscuit and light caramel: seriously well balanced. It’s pure Pacific Northwest hop joy. But from County Cork. Made by an Australian and a New Zealander. Eclectic, eh?
4) Metalman Windjammer (4.8% ABV)
More New Zealand hops – but this time used to their glorious, delicate best. Windjammer comes from the stables of one of my favourite Irish brewers, Waterford’s Metalman. It falls somewhere between an American Pale Ale and a hoppy Amber Ale, showcasing the light mango, grapefruit, orange, fresh grassiness, and citrus of the various NZ hops in a wonderfully adept manner. Caramel is present too, but not in an overbearing way. Metalman don’t bottle their brews currently, so get this on tap. It’s a truly outstanding beer when cask conditioned and dry-hopped, so if you get the chance to try it in this form: HAVE AT LEAST THIRTY PINTS OF IT. But drink responsibly too. Obviously.