Peter Ranscombe joins drinks website Beer 52 for a virtual road trip around the island of Ireland’s breweries.
FEW countries are associated as closely with a single drink as Ireland and stout.
Guinness flows through Dublin’s veins, and few beers can claim to match its global brand recognition.
Yet Ireland also has a thriving craft brewing scene, both inside and outside its capital.
Hop over the border into Northern Ireland and the same is true, with the province sharing in the micro-brewing revolution that’s swept the rest of the UK since the small brewers’ tax break in 2002.
That creativity was on show – literally – during drinks club Beer 52’s “St Patrick’s Day Irish Craft Beer Road Trip”, held over two nights last month on YouTube.
Hosted by Rich Croasdale and Doug Garry, the live stream featured videos recorded by each of the breweries taking part in the online tasting, along with music, a quiz, and even Irish dancing lessons.
It was a slick production, with Radio 1-style “shout outs” for viewers, and judicious use of an air horn.
Edinburgh-based Beer 52 has held a series of CyberFest online tastings during the pandemic, with its next event – which will celebrate the company’s eighth birthday – taking place on 28 and 29 May.
Some of the Irish beers on show a fortnight ago are still available from its website – and are well-worth exploring.
The White Hag Fionn Double India Pale Ale (IPA) (£4.99 for 440ml)
Hailing from Ballymote in County Sligo, The White Hag brewery was one of Beer 52’s main partners for its Irish online festival, and produced one of my favourite beers of the Saturday night. Heavy peach and pine on the nose, with lemon in support, and then a rich, thick mouthfeel, in keeping with other strong beers around the 8.5% alcohol by volume (ABV)-mark. More peach, lemon, and mandarin flavours on the palate, plus a chewy texture and a bit of light rich tea biscuit on the finish.
Whiplash Rollover Session New England IPA (£2.99 for 330ml)
A seriously-impressive New England IPA. Hiding beneath its vigorous head were appealing aromas of lemon and grapefruit, which led into more mouth-watering bitter lemon and grapefruit on the palate. Drinkers on the Friday night also voted Dublin-based Whiplash brewery’s Disco Mystic double IPA their top beer.
O Brother Flourish Double IPA (£6.59 for 440ml)
Back into double IPA territory with Flourish from O Brother in County Wicklow’s Kilcoole. As with the Fionn, its 8.3% ABV delivers a rich and rounded mouthfeel, but here the flavour emphasis falls on caramel, red apple, mandarin, and apricot. All those delicious flavours are preceded by a warm, round nose full of pine, lemon, and lime cordial.
Boundary Brewing Gift Imperial Stout (£5.99 for 440ml)
It’s not all about the IPAs either. Belfast-based stout specialist Boundary embodies the essence of craft brewing, with each batch of its Gift imperial stout featuring a different ABV. This example was 9.3%, which enhanced its rounded mouthfeel, but it wore its strength lightly, making it dangerously moreish. Sweet vanilla and creamy milk chocolate won the tussle with the roast coffee flavours on the palate, while dark chocolate triumphed over the coffee on the nose. It’s got a gorgeous ruby hue too.
The White Hag Shamrock Shake Ice Cream Ale
It wouldn’t be St Patrick’s Day without a novelty green beer. The White Hag’s Shamrock Shake offered peppermint, coconut, and vanilla on the nose, and then mint choc chip ice cream on the palate. While I’m arguably the world’s biggest mint choc chip fan, the creamy texture just didn’t do it for me. But, as far as novelty beers go, this wasn’t half bad.
Read more of Peter Ranscombe’s beer, wine and whisky reviews on his drinks blog, The Grape & The Grain