The “Holy Trinity” of Irish craft brewing is a well-known concept to local beer heads.
Over the past few years, Irish microbreweries haven’t exactly been trying to rock the boat with their opening forays into the market (fair enough – the Irish brewing scene is a bloody scary place to enter). Most breweries have preferred to launch themselves with a fairly unexciting triumvirate of ‘safe’ brews: a stout/porter, a red ale, and an incredibly lightly-citrusy pale ale. All of around the 4.5% ABV mark. While it’s been great to see new players chancing their arm and bringing their products to market, what we’ve often ended up is a bar-full of decent but fairly samey-samey products.
Fortunately, we’re now at the point of this Irish beer ‘revolution’ (it’ll be a good while before I take that word out of inverted commas), where brewers – whether brand new or more established – are feeling confident that there are enough folks out there who can handle something a bit less ‘safe’.
Two highly impressive and innovative recent Irish brews have exemplified this point and shown that our local beer scene is slowly but surely starting to evolve into something pretty exciting.
First, let’s check out the latest release from those perennial recipe-tweakers from Waterford, Metalman Brewing Company.
Smokescreen is the latest of this lot’s experimental Chameleon range. And, yes, you don’t have to be bleedin’ Morse to deduce that this is a Rauchbier. Ireland’s first proper smoked beer for some time, for that matter.
Rauchbier is usually characterised by a wonderful sinus-overloading meaty smokiness, which comes from the use of smoked malt. Bamberg in Germany is the smokey Mecca of Rauchbier brewing; you may well have seen Schlenkerla beers in offies and bars around the country – these guys are the kings of all things Rauch.
Unlike the absolute bacon-fiesta smoke overload of lots of the Schlenkerla range, Metalman Smokescreen (4.5% ABV) is actually a remarkably subtle and nuanced example of the style. It pours a murky charcoal colour with more of a roasted malt and dark chocolate thing going on in the aroma. A light smoked bacon note comes through, but not in a brash way. It’s in the taste where the multi-layerd smokiness really kicks off: some almost peaty roasted maltiness, light bacon, burnt coffee, and light tobacco really complement the fairly creamy (almost vanilla-y) chocolate and fig-led dark fruitiness. There’s lingering tobacco smoke and dark roast coffee, but (thankfully) there’s not the residual smoke kick of Germanic Rauchbier that utterly knackers your palate. Sessionable smoked beer for beginners, that’s what this is. Bloody enjoyable gear.
Next up, is something completely different from a brewery that I’ve been guilty of scrolling past in times gone by: Bo Bristle.
This County Offaly brewery have been around for a bit; I remember being underwhelmed by the first incarnation of their alleged IPA more than a year ago and actually haven’t revisited it – shame on me.
I made the leap of faith to try their new brew at the Bull & Castle’s punnily named Irishtoberfest last month, and was thoroughly impressed.
Bo Bristle American Brown Ale is a pure cracker. A hefty enough 6.2% ABV and a deep murky brown colour. Loads of good resinous piney hoppiness on the nose, some deep citrus, sweetish caramel, and thick chocolate and roasted malt notes. Huge pine and and dank grapefruit in the taste, mixed with a big roasted malt hit: chocolate and light figgy fruitiness sweeten things up too. Some good thick caramel notes to match with the heavy pine hoppiness. Takes a bit to wade through it (it gets a bit soupy as it warms), but there’s plenty of great flavour here. There’s a really great Pacific Northwest hoppy bite – pretty damn powerful. Pine resin and thick nutty caramel malt lingers.
So, Ireland now has a native India Brown Ale/American Brown Ale. I’ll not be scrolling past Bo Bristle anymore, that’s for sure.
With more exciting brews due to be released soon (a Double IPA from Galway Bay and a Black IPA from Blacks of Kinsale, for example), now is a better time than ever to be drinking beer in Ireland.