A personal philosophy of mine has been never to turn down anything free; so when someone from Strangford Lough Brewing Company offered to send me some of their beers for sampling I immediately accepted. I know there are different schools of thought on the ethics of freebies and the reviewing thereof, but my decision is to review everything that is drinkable. Besides this is a Northern Ireland Based blog so should cover the (very few) Northern Ireland brewers! I don’t promise it will be a favourable review but it will be my honest opinion. Please bear that in mind when reading this and future reviews. As with all reviews this is my subjective opinion, regardless of attempts to be objective there will always be an element of opinion. Right, that disclaimer out of the way time to move on to the beers.
Strangford Lough is an interesting enterprise. To the best of my knowledge they have no Northern Ireland brewing premises, it is instead contracted out to other brewers (perhaps from wort concentrate)1. The only info to be gleaned from the bottles is that it is brewed somewhere in the European Union, which doesn’t really narrow it down. Whilst this lack of information may be irksome to some (and my inner beer geek would love to know) the most important thing is that the beer tastes good. It could be brewed on the moon and served through a plant pot for all I care. The beers are recreations of historic Irish recipes, with the ethos of the company being to reconnect Irish Americans with their beery roots and act as a keepsake of their visit to the Emerald Isle. The bottles have eye-catching labels and memorable names, with a bit of history about the brew and its connotations. I will not reproduce it verbatim here as the information is on the brewery website and linked below. There are also interesting posts from Roger Protz and Beer Reviews with info on recipes and the owner.
I received two different beers from the core range. St Patrick’s Best a session bitter and Barelegs a best bitter. I opened both at the same time for photographic purposes and immediately noticed a difference in carbonation. St Patrick’s was positively champing at the bit to escape the bottle and poured with a thick off-white head and maintained a steady stream of bubbles until the end of the glass. Barelegs was a bit lacklustre in comparison but managed to retain a lacing of foam on the side of the glass. As you can see from the photo below there was very little difference in colour.
The beers side by side.
St Patrick's had a prickly carbonation which helped to give a strong nose of vanilla and pepper. It was smooth to drink with crystal malt character and a hint of bitterness but nothing stand-out. Subtle blackberry flavours became apparent as the beer warmed. It is apparently brewed with shamrock, though not knowing what the flavour is could not identify it in the beer. All in all a quaffable session ale, but nothing to write home about.
St Patrick's Best
Barelegs, however, was a different beast altogether. Immediately on opening the bottle an antiseptic chlorophenol (think TCP) aroma made itself known. My initial assumption was this was due to the inclusion of some peated malt in the brew. Peat being still commonly used as a fuel in Ireland this wasn’t surprising. However digging deeper in previous reviews and on the company website I found no mention of this; so unless the recipe has changed recently I think this is an off flavour. As Mark Dredge pointed out in his recent blog post, some people are insensitive to phenol, so it may have always been in the flavour profile and remained unnoticed thus far. More likely however is this particular batch had a little accident. Most likely I think is that the brewery forgot to treat its water or their purifier had ceased functioning as chlorinated water can react with hop tannins to produce the phenol characteristic. I do have another bottle of this which I will try at a later date to see if the taste is the same. On to the tasting then: Burnt toffee and TCP on the nose with a complex smoked malt, sweet cured bacon and beech wood flavour. No bitterness noticeable but a slight tinny flavour present due to phenol interaction with malt. Soft fruit character becomes more prevalent down the glass with plenty of malt character as the phenol presence takes a back seat. The smoked wood flavour stays the duration though. If it is accidental then I think it would be worth releasing a beer with the inclusion of some peated malt because the complexity makes for a much more interesting drink than I assume the regular recipe would be.
Overall the beers were enjoyable and would try them on cask if I ever saw them. They fill a niche in the market and would like to try some of the others in the range. Thank you to Emma (@emma_mccarey) for sending me the beers and @Irishbeerman for the offer.