If Saint Patrick’s Day this year proved anything, it’s that large portions of the UK seem to think that the only beer Ireland has even heard of is stout. I even saw pubs proudly tweeting their beery line-ups for the day, consisting entirely of stouts that weren’t even from Ireland.
This is, of course, absurd. So it only seems right to shine a light on Irish beer that doesn’t originate from St. James’s Gate.
As it happens, sat in my tasting pile is a cluster of beers from O’Haras (also known, rather confusingly, as the Carlow Brewing Company) – a member of the first wave of Irish craft brewing, founded way back in 1996.
This is their core range, and although it does include a couple of stouts it covers a pretty normal range of beers, from pales and ambers up to a heavyweight Double IPA.
Curim Gold is a 4.3% ABV Celtic Wheat Beer, although I’m not entirely clear what makes it ‘celtic’ other than the fact that it’s coming from an Irish brewer. It’s a gloriously golden beer, with a fine-textured, almost creamy looking white head on top.
The aroma is initially honey sweet, quickly joined by over-ripened plums and a touch of orange blossom. In the mouth, red fruit sweetness blends nicely with a dry bitterness that lingers well. The carbonation is a touch heavy handed, and the wheat character doesn’t come through all that strongly but aside from that it’s a tasty enough beer.
Irish Red is another 4.3% ABV beer. It’s a deep red colour, with another fine-textured, slightly creamy and lingering head which is a touch off-white this time.
The nose is full of toffee with some blackcurrant acidity lurking beneath. In the mouth there’s a creamy fudge sweetness, with quite an acidic bitter base which lingers impressively. I’m quite partial to a red ale, and this is a good example.
Irish Pale Ale is a pale golden ale with a slightly stronger 5.2% ABV.
The nose is light and gentle, with sweet satsuma citrus and a subtle honey edge. In the mouth it’s sugar sweet with a nicely rounded, resinous and slightly sticky hop bitterness. That bitterness builds to a slightly overpowering aftertaste which ends up feeling a little too harsh and spoiling an otherwise good beer.
Leann Follain is one of two stouts in the range, a 6.0% ABV Extra Irish Stout. It’s a classic-looking stout, a brown so dark as to be almost black with a fine and almost creamy, deep tan head lingering on it.
The nose is black treacle with a touch of espresso and the distinct heat of alcohol below that. In the mouth it’s full of creamy foam with an initial sweetness that is quickly countered with burnt sugar bitterness; there are fruity notes with sticky dates lurking. Through it all is a warming alcohol that suggests a stronger beer than it actually is.
Yes, it’s a stout but in a very distinctly ‘craft’ style; more like something you’d see from Kernel than Guinness.
Irish Stout is O’Hara’s ‘standard’ 4.3% ABV stout. It has a similar look to the Leann Follain but with a thinner and less creamy head.
The nose has the same coffee and treacle notes, but without the backing of the alcohol, and the coffee comes through more strongly. In the mouth it’s light to the point of being almost watery. There’s a nice, slightly espresso-like bitter kick at the end but it’s a lacklustre and rather half-hearted stout.
At 7.5% ABV, the Double IPA is certainly a lot of beer. A deep golden colour, it has a decent lingering white head and yet an almost cider-like mass of big rising bubbles.
The nose is honey sweet with buckets of tropical fruit; it reminds me – and not in a bad way – of Five Alive. There’s also a touch of malt extract about it. In the mouth there’s a whole lot going on: more honey, a seriously warming alcohol punch, pine tree resin and a gentle bitterness at the end that’s just enough to wash away all that sticky sweetness.
This is a magnificent beer – the raw, chaotic punch of flavours that a Double IPA needs with the balance to pull it all together in the finish and leave you wanting more.
Finally we reach Amber Adventure, a 4.1% amber ale featuring New Zealand hops. The fluffy head lingers nicely.
The nose is a honey-soaked digestive biscuit with a surprisingly gentle peach blossom lurking underneath. The sweetness is fleetingly apparent on the tongue but it’s quickly swept away by a substantial hop bitterness that manages to stay controlled – powerful but not overwhelming – and leads to a light bodied and clean, hoppy finish.
Sadly I think the New World hops are a little lost here but it’s a nicely balanced and refreshing beer to finish on.
Overall this is an interesting and fairly broad range of tasty beers – not the most exciting, cutting edge “craft experience”, but the kind of solid collection you hope and expect to see from a middle aged craft brewery.
It’s certainly not all stouts.
Many thanks to Bord Bia for these samples.