Ireland has recently got its first top-class gypsy brewer extraordinaire – a Seamus O’Mikkeller if you like – in the form of Dublin’s Brown Paper Bag Project.
Contract brewing has been a regular thing in Ireland’s microbrewing scene for many years (in the current climate people can’t afford a pint, never mind a brewery), but never has there been quite so much buzz surrounding a brewery-less venture as there has been about these guys. BPBP was established last year by the beer-loving folks behind two of Dublin’s top gastropubs, Stoneybatter’s L. Mulligan Grocer and Dorset Street’s W.J. Kavanagh, with the goal of collaborating with established craft breweries around Ireland and Europe to create some exciting small-batch brews. It’s fair to say that so far they’ve absolutely bloody nailed it. Yesterday I cracked open a bottle of their most recent beer (only their second one ever) which was brewed at Dancing Duck Brewery in Derbyshire: Oxman Dark Brown Ale.
Coming from the North East of England, I’ve had my fair share of brown ale. I’m more used to the piss-poor watery caramel of Newcastle Brown or the standard one-dimensional nuttiness you often find characterising the less-than-imaginative browns of many of my home region’s brewers. Fortunately, Oxman doesn’t fall into either of these godforsaken categories.
This chap comes in at 5.8% ABV and pours a decadent deep mahogany colour with a massive tan head – it looks the part, put it that way. The aroma is pretty decadent too: first of all you get loads of rich, dark fruit-and-nut chocolate; then comes some dark fruit action (plums especially), vinous notes, light vanilla pod, and some roasted malt. It’s got a cracking nose on it – full of depth and intensity. This depth certainly translates into the taste, with thick dark chocolate, light coffee notes, loads of vinous dark fruits, hints of vanilla, and a warming roastiness all mingling together in perfect harmony. One of the hops used in Oxman is the American powerhouse Chinook: you can certainly pick up its earthy, herbal bitterness towards the back of your palate, which gives a bit of balls and bite to proceedings. This lad’s carbonation is perfect – a real full and silky mouthfeel – a great example of the potential benefits of bottle conditioning. Rich dark chocolate and that Chinook-driven earthy/herbaceousness linger long into the aftertaste… Excuse me while I go out and get another crate of bottles to fill my bath tub with.
Irish beer of the year so far? Undoubtedly. Get it while it lasts, folks. You’ll pick up 33cl bottles of it in selected off licences and beer bars around the country, and it’ll be available occasionally in cask-conditoned format in L. Mulligan Grocer and W.J. Kavanagh. And while you’re there, check out their first brew, Dr Rudi (a Belgian-style strong ale brewed with New Zealand hops) which is pretty damn decent too.