Craft. A mixed bag with Wide Street, Mescan, Wicklow Wolf and Torc.
Wide Street House Saison 5.5% ABV, 440ml can Bradleys
Saison is a traditional Belgian beer brewed for the summer-time workers and Longford brewery Wide Street (it is situated on a very wide street) claims theirs is a classic representation of the Belgian Saison style.
It pours a murky orange colour with a good white head. Aromatics throw up moderate banana notes, also a very mild spice. Glug this and you miss a lot. Sip and savour and you get citrus notes, that spice again and a smooth background wrap of banana.
Their yeast had been playing quite a role in this two-month fermentation and it is Saccharomyces cerevisiae var diastaticus saison strain (don't know of any abbreviation!).
They have also employed their favourite hop Saaz in the process and that provides a medium bitterness backed up with those hints of banana and pepper. It had been “elected’ to their core range, the punters obviously liking the mild banana aromas and flavours, and a touch of peppery spice; the bitterness factor is mid-range.
The beer has new packaging. “Our House Saison, part of our core range, has just got a rebrand! It's the same recipe with a fresh look for a zesty and peppery dry saison. Perfect pairing with barbecue meats, salads and fish.”
Mescan Westport Saison, 5.8% ABV, 330 ml bottle
Saison is a traditional farmhouse style from the South of Belgium brewed to sustain the workers during long days of toil in the sun. Mayo’s Mescan are noted for their Belgian style beers and this Saison is an amazing example of how well they have learned the arts of the Belgian aces.
Colour of this Mescan is a slightly hazy orange, with a soft white head that sinks slowly. Aromas include clove and citrus notes. It is dry and light on the palate, effervescent and refreshing. Indeed, that refreshing fizziness is quite a feature. It is also very well balanced, with the New World hops matched by the earthy spicy yeast flavours, and you don't really notice the high alcohol. But do sip rather than gulp!
There is something different, something more wide-ranging about this Mescan saison. Flavours are deeper, longer lasting, and the experience more satisfactory. More than likely it comes from longer ageing (a brewery policy).
On my recent visit to the rural brewery in Mayo, brewer and co-founder Cillian Ó'Móráin explained that Mescan beers take a minimum of 4 months with the heavier ones getting 6-8 months whereas your normal craft beer takes just a few weeks from start to shop (can vary from brewer to brewer). While the extra time makes the Mescan more expensive, Cillian reckons it is crucial for the quality of the beer. And it is indeed a premium product, illustrated well by this superb saison.
Very Highly Recommended.
It is refreshing and quite a thirst quencher (which is the whole idea), and Mescan, as you may know, was St Patrick’s brewer and no doubt the odd conversion was facilitated by a jug of his cloudy brew.
The modern bottle-conditioned beer is still somewhat cloudy! All Mescan beers are bottle conditioned. To enjoy them clear, store them upright and pour into a glass, leaving the yeast sediment in the bottle.
With its slightly bitter finish, Saison goes well with spicy dishes such as curries or chicken wings. "Our Saison is a real thirst quencher!" For more pairing ideas check their Food Pairing Wheel here.
* If you'd like to visit Mescan, they are open to visitors most Friday afternoons through the summer - online booking is required here.
Wicklow Wolf Honey Hefeweizen Locavore Spring 2023, 6.0% ABV, 440ml can Bradleys
The Wicklow Wolf Locavore series always scores highly in this quarter and I knew I had another winner in my hand when I tasted the Spring 2023 edition, a Honey Hefeweizen, at the Easter Beer Fest in Franciscan Well.
Local, as you know, is always at the heart of the series, and this is brewed with locally sourced Wicklow heather honey from the hives of “our friends in OpenHive” and using wheat grown in the field behind the brewery. Balance as always is important and therefore the character of honey should be evident but not allowed to take over.
It has a pale gold colour and is hazy, with a white head. It is based on a “strong wheat grain bill” and classic wheat beer aromas of banana and clove rise from the glass, also a touch of spice. And the beer seems a little bit sweeter on the palate as it and the honey get together but that important balance is achieved.
Quite a taste of Wicklow then and Very Highly Recommended. So a contender for honours already from Wicklow. And could it repeat the Wicklow Wolf Locavore Spring 2022 (Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale) that was joint first in the blog’s Beer of the Year last year?
Hops are Idaho 7
Heather Honey an ingredient.
Malts are: Pilsner, Wheat, Munich
Craftbeer.com: Both lagers and ales can be brewed with honey. Some brewers will choose to experiment with ingredients, while others will add honey to traditional styles. Overall the character of honey should be evident but not totally overwhelming.
Smoked German Ale
Torc Smoked German Ale, 6.0% ABV, 500ml bottle, Carry Out Killarney
Torc doesn’t tell us much - their website is under construction - but they say this was brewed using beech wood smoked malt to create a rich dark beer with savory (they use the American spelling) and smoked aromas. They also call it an ale. Most German-smoked beers (Rauchbiers) that I know of are in the lager class. Torc has used “select smoked German malts”, smoked with beech wood.
However, any style of beer may be smoked. But, no matter the style, balance is always sought and that “guest” ingredient should not dominate. The style did originate in Germany as Rauchbier and other brewers can come up with their own recipe, subject to balance of course. However, a beer that may seem overly smokey early on may become less so as it ages because smoke flavours get weaker over time.
Remember those bacon crisps we used to get in bars a long time ago, you still do. Well, in fairness this beer has that aroma, “Liquid bacon fries” as Limerick brewery Crew calls them. Colour of the Torc effort is a hazy reddish/brown and the head soon shrinks. The flavours follow the aromas but, in both, I’d say that Torc have achieved an excellent balance - the bacon fries effect is moderate - and the beer drinks and finishes well.
Although a classic Rauchbier is brewed as a lager of the malty German persuasion, smoke beers can take other forms. Smoked porters are common in the US. Nowadays, just a handful of breweries in Bamberg, Germany carry the Rauchbier torch. They continue the tradition of making beer with malt smoked over beechwood, which imparts a smooth and pleasant smoky flavour, similar to that of hickory – so similar that Rauchbiers are sometimes colloquially referred to as “Bacon Beers.”
So now, that you have the picture, it is over to you! it’s a challenge getting the balance just right, and arguably just as challenging to find the right audience for it. Torc certainly got the first part pretty much spot on and it looks as of their customers are up for it.
Pair it with delicious Gubbeen Hot Smoked Ham, also Baltimore Dry Cured Black Bacon or Ummera Smoked Bacon Rashers. Or just a little pack of those Bacon Fries!
Recent Irish examples of the style are:
Kinnegar 20÷2 Anniversary Rauchbier
Whiplash Immolator Triple Decoction Smoked Doppelbock
Whiplash Smoke Stack Lightnin’ Oaked & Smoked Brown.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen from Bamburg is a German classic.