Friday, 17 April 2015

#264: By Degrees

A few weeks ago, Dave and Ronan from the Bierhaus organised a trip to the Eight Degrees brewery in Mitchelstown. The first trip to Black's in November was a success (though notes were regrettably not taken - in my defence, Black IPA was flowing freely, as well as immature Model T), and given the way in which the Aussie/Kiwi operation is churning out top-notch hop fodder of late, this trip was highly anticipated.

The keg positively trembled when it saw us coming
We arrived not long after midday, and after being greeted by Scott we made our way directly to a neat little bar with a keg of Hurricane, which was all ours to abuse for the day. It was delicious as always, being quite round and fulfilling underneath its sharp citrus fruit attack. After filling our glasses we began to wander. Closest to us at the time was an open-top freezer full of hops that I think I heard Scott say contained €20,000 worth of lupuline goodness. I mean really. I was perfectly happy to stay by the Hurricane but to keep up appearances I guess we had to do the whole tour thing.

What surprised me for a brewery turning out a handful of core beers as well as a smattering of limited releases was just how small the system is. Yes, it's a craft brewery and all that, but I was expecting more than a two-vessel system. At the moment it turns out about 15 hectolitres, which will be upped to a five-vessel 60 hectolitre system with the new brewkit the guys sourced in Mauritius. 80% of the sales are made up by Howling Gale Ale and Barefoot Bohemian, so as you can imagine it's a pretty busy brewing schedule to keep up demand and have the other cores and specials on the go too. 

Sneaking some Full Irish from the FV
What they may lack in brewing capacity at the moment, Eight Degrees make up for with a rake of fermenters. There was plenty on the go, and we were treated to a sneaky taste of The Full Irish, around 1 week before it was 'ready'. Lemon and lime and low carbonation made it quite pleasant actually, but it was no Hurricane on the day. Another sneaky pull was had of Knockmealdown Stout, which I feel fared better in its youth than the Full Irish.

We crossed the industrial estate then to a newer, bigger warehouse, which was to be the new home for the brewkit arriving slowly from Mauritius. Said brewkit is a Kaspar Schulz system; German made (obviously) and apparently the system of choice for esteemed brewers like Sierra Nevada and Firestone Walker. There wasn't a lot to see in this new space, aside from some massive horizontal vessels that I'll leave the brewing men and women out there to geek out over. 

After a little look around and some Q&A it was back to the original warehouse, which has been home to Eight Degrees for its four years of operation, to indulge in a couple more glasses of Hurricane while we wound down the visit chatting with Scott. It was then that the Aussie pointed to the labels of all his beers by the bottling station and fondly recalled being shown an Untappd checklist by a guy who'd had all but one of the beers. Not to be outdone by another nerd, I pointed out with mock-modesty that I'd had them all at least once. So there, guy I don't know. More Hurricane and a luminous green t-shirt later and the bus had arrived to bring us back the Bierhaus.

Thanks so much to Scott for giving us the tour and to the Bierhaus for putting it together. We'll have to be back when the new system is up and running.

But wait, there's more!

It was also around this time that I had the latest Eight Degrees special, Enigma. They had originally thought that they'd been the first to brew with this hop in the Northern Hemisphere, but they may have been pipped to it by a week (Kernel in London may have been first). The hop in question is, yes, Enigma, and it's an Australian descendant of the Swiss Tettnang. I had some of the beer on tap and in the bottle, with these notes in particular coming from the bottle, for what it's worth. 

Pouring a pale, hazy yellow, the aromatic effect is leafy and herbal with plenty of citrus zest and lemongrass on show. It's quite different to the previous two specials and certainly intriguing. A full and wheaty body - typical of the brewer - gives more green, crunchy herbal-ness with even more citrus fruit, again predominantly lemon, but with a lick of sweet candied fruit. The bitterness is all the middle and there's a suggestion of spice too, but with none of the tongue-tingling afters of the Full Irish or Gasman. I didn't really know what to make of the hop profile; its not quite the bitter, citrus fruit bomb you'd expect, even though most of the fruit expression I perceived actually was citrus. Some honeydew melon sweetness made a show too, and the whole thing is more candied than it is pith and peel brashness. 
Whatever the case, it's a gorgeous beer, the third gorgeous special release they've done this year. 

In essence, an industrial estate outside Mitchelstown is a dreadfully boring place to be, but when the brewery housed therein is doing such compelling stuff, the trip is well worth it. I thank again those involved and leave you with a photo roll of the visit.

Inspecting the hops

Scott with the two vessel system

The Hall of Fermenters

Some of the new Mauritius kit
Some more of the new kit 


Friday, 10 April 2015

#263: California Dreamin

Lagunitas are one of the most recent American breweries to reach the Irish market, and one with a pretty good reputation for fresh, hoppy beers.
OK, maybe we shouldn't be looking to Petaluma for our fresh hop fix, but they nevertheless warrant at least a try, especially considering these were relatively fresh, for Irish standards.
I started with Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter Lagunitas IPA, a clear, bright orange affair with pleasantly sharp and zesty notes on the nose to begin with. It's brimming with the grapefruit and pine that you so commonly expect from this style, along with some pithy and slightly sugary orange. This is all much the same to taste, being rather clean and carrying a slightly gristy, biscuity malt backbone. I shit you not, there is a even a back-of-the-mouth, base-of-the-tongue tingling that puts me in mind of the coriander note of a wit, but it's never more than a suggestion; citrus rules the day, the IPA delivers as an IPA and everyone's happy. I mean, we could be happier, but still.

Little Sumpin' has almost the exact same thing going on the aroma; pine, peel, pith, citrus fruit with flesh'n'all. Where it really sets itself apart is of course the flavour, which is jam-packed with mango, mandarin and sweet orange marmalade - tons of the fruity stuff. Despite a bit of a spike of heat, the malt backbone never steps into the heavy toffee side of things; just pale, cereal grain straying into caramel, allowing candied citrus fruit to supply the main sweet undertones to the light, waxy orange skin bitterness throughout. Better than the IPA if you're choosing.

I skipped the Dogtown Pale Ale, opting instead for Hop Stoopid. Yes, just a week after shelling out the big bucks for a single bottle of Two Hundred Fathoms I decided to do it yet again on a large bottle of imported US IPA, a beery risk if ever there was one. I was rewarded with a sharp and bold nose that was yet again full of orange and grapefruit skin pithiness and a candied citrus fruit backing. There's a more tropical side to this one too, maybe pineapple or melon, but both complement a piney, honeyish bittersweet mix at the core. Bittersweet is probably the best way to describe the beer in brief; sharp lime and orange zest, pine needles, orange marmalade and a sugary, overripe fruit thing. This is not to suggest the beer is over sweet or balanced to the point of boredom - there's plenty for the hophead to enjoy, in both expressive fruit character and tangible perceived bitterness on the palate. Surprisingly, this was worth the €8.49.

Unsurprisingly, it was the best of the three.