All of a sudden it seems like there's loads happening on the Irish beer scene. For one thing, Franciscan Well have a new seasonal out which I caught up with in the Bull & Castle recently.
Croaking Lizard is a brown ale of the murky reddish variety. Where one might expect a certain sweetness, this is incredibly dry with lots of roasted grain, almost akin to a stout or schwarzbier, in fact. At the end there's a little kick of vegetal hop bitterness. But no coffee, no caramel: none of the flavours I'd consider important in a brown ale. I did have a second one, just to get my head around it, but I don't think it's for me, really. If you're looking for something light, crisp and quite fizzy, however, this could be the dark beer you're after.
Meanwhile, the most hotly-anticipated new arrival finally made its debut at the end of June, with the appearance of Galway Hooker in bottles. I'm actually a little surprised by how hotly-anticipated it still was. Irish drinkers have been clamouring for bottled Hooker since the time (up to a mere three or four years ago) when it was the only Irish beer in permanent production and distributed widely that had any kind of hop character to it. Since then we've been able to take home Porterhouse Hop Head and O'Hara's IPA, yet still the cry has been "We Want Hooker". Now that I've had a bottle -- a half-litre resplendent in its county colours -- I think I can see why the attraction is still there. Though lacking the punch of Hop Head and the strength of O'Hara's, it's doing its own thing: very sessionable at 4.3% ABV yet rounded out with a crystal malt sweetness that the others haven't matched. For me, the real bonus has been a whole glassful at cellar temperature. The anticipation of a dry-hopped cask version is almost unbearable.
Also fresh off the bottling line is Eight Degrees's Howling Gale. Bottle conditioning in 33cls makes this an even more complex affair, with a bit of yeasty grittiness in with the intense hop bitterness, plus some sweet biscuit malt just peeping through at the end. The guys say the second batch was done with an adjusted hop schedule so I'm looking forward to comparing the two, pathetic geek that I am. In the meantime, keep inspecting the fridges for Howling Gale. The second in the Eight Degrees series -- Sunburnt Red -- should making an appearance soon too. (Oh, today, as it happened. Now on tap at L. Mulligan Grocer.)
And finally a whole new brewery has brought its wares to Dublin. BrewEyed is based in Co. Offaly and met the public at the Brewers on the Bay festival in Galway last April. I happened across BrewEyed Lager when out for a few leisurely Sunday beers in The Village on Wexford Street a couple of weeks ago. This is their first release and as such I wasn't expecting much from it. The tang of cider in the aroma immediately put me on guard for a poorly constructed lager. But beyond it I found a remarkably well-made pilsner. There's a decent amount of sweet candyfloss malt forming the base, and then some lovely grassy Czech hop notes, including a touch of asparagus, rounding it out. Maybe there's a slight oxidised note in there too: another flaw one can expect to find in a first-run beer. But overall a promising start and I look forward to trying the blonde ale when and if that appears in these parts.
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