There’s one truly on-form brewery in Ireland at this moment in time. That brewery is Galway Bay.
The gang over on the West coast upgraded their brewing facilities a few months back and they’re really starting to reap the rewards of their substantial investment. As well as significantly upgrading the recipes of their core range of brews (Full Sail, Bay Ale, and Stormy Port) they’ve perfected a seasonal milk chocolate stout (Buried at Sea) and released a legitimately show-stopping Double IPA in the form of the much lauded Of Foam and Fury.
What else does a small/medium sized Irish brewer need to do, you may ask? They’ve already reached heights that many other players in the market could only dream of (both in terms of genuine quality and public perception). You’d not begrudge the Galway Bay lads a bit of consolidation time – now would be a decent point to indulge in a good bit of laurel-resting – but no. Far from it. In fact, they’ve only gone and upped their bloody game once again…
Two Hundred Fathoms Imperial Stout
Irish brewers have knocked out a few half-decent Imperial-ish stouts over the past year or so, but nothing’s really hit it out of the park. Evidently, what was needed to bring home the bacon was a 10% ABV Irish Whiskey Barrel Aged wax-sealed Stout. Evidently.
Once you hack through a bit of wax and pop open the cap, Two Hundred Fathoms pours an oily black with a proper mocha head. Looks like a glass of chocolate mousse.
The aroma is full of chocolate, light roast coffee, and fruity whiskey notes (orange blossom and a touch of vanilla too). Yes, I know describing an aroma as ‘orange blossom’ is pretty far along the beer-wanker spectrum, but anyone who’s had orange blossom infused water will get what I’m harping on about.
Taste gives a good hit of dark chocolate and deep roasted malt, more perfumey whiskey notes come through, increasing peachy notes too. Some light vanilla from the barrel. Dark berries coming through to add some dark and fruity depth. There’s some light tobacco smoke and slightly burnt coffee character towards the finish. Just the right amount of malty chewiness. More wonderful fruity whiskey and oaked notes emerge as it warms. Man, this is good.
It’s so silkily smooth: nowhere near as brash and boozy as I expected. It’s pretty easy drinking to be fair, with the significant level of alcohol perfectly (nearly masterfully) integrated. Lingering dark chocolate (think along the lines of that fancy Valrhona hot chocolate that a few high-end cafés have started doing), coffee, and that semi-sweet perfumed orange blossom note carries on long into the aftertaste.
This is an excellent brew. Evidently the base imperial stout recipe is unbelievably good, but the whiskey barrel ageing has added some extra fruity depth rather than masking the subtleties of the brew with vanilla sweetness (often a byproduct of barrel ageing). In my humble opinion, Two Hundred Fathoms is up there in the same ballpark as some of the most legendary barrel aged imperial stouts in the world. And it’s made in Galway. Unbelievable.
This brew is, unfortunately, seriously limited. Only 800 bottles have been produced and they’re only available from the Cottage Group’s pubs (Against the Grain, Dark Horse, etc.) at the price of €7.50 per 50cl bottle. This is a bloody decent price. I’m going to buy as many as I can get my hands on…race you to the bar…