Northern Ireland doesn't have many breweries (5 now though!) so my task of reviewing each isn't too onerous. The difficulty is finding somewhere that stocks them! Luckily the fantastic Vineyard in Belfast keeps a good range; so when I had the use of a taxi I made the most of it and brought a big box full home, including the three beers which I am reviewing today.
Clanconnel Brewery is a fairly new (just over three years old) venture based in Waringstown County Down. They brew a range of but three beers, which seem to be the necessary portfolio for any Irish brewery, a stout, an Irish red and a blonde.
From the pictures below you can see that the labels have a simple yet recognisable design across the range, with only the background colour varying. By pure coincidence I read this post last night written for #TheSession by Nick at lautering.net. The logo is a crested crane, which is the family crest of the Waring family, for which Waringstown is named. The family motto "neither by violence or cunning" also applies well to the brewery whose beers speak for themselves with no need for subterfuge or flashy gimmicks.
|Weaver's Gold, McGrath's Irish Black, McGrath's Irish Red|
|Clanconnel McGrath's Irish Red|
First up is the McGrath's Irish red. According to the Clanconnel website:
"McGrath's Irish Red is named in honour of the 'Mighty' Master McGrath, the greatest greyhound to have ever raced and who won the hare coursing Waterloo Cup 3 times in 1868, 1869 and 1871.
Owned by the 2nd Baron, Lord Lurgan of Lurgan, Co Armagh Master McGrath became the town's most famous sporting hero being renowned both nationally and internationally. During his racing career he was defeated only once in 37 course meetings."
The brewery are interested in promoting local history and there is a good write up on their website about the history of the local area.
On to the beer. It pours a russet-brown with fluffy off-beige head. The aroma is at first musty, a bit like an old attic but gains a more pronounced booze soaked dried fruit character after a few moments. The body is fairly dry, with gentle carbonation with shortcake, candy sugar and custard(!) flavours. Astringent yet sweet on the finish. This is one that I'd like to try on cask.
|Clanconnel Weaver's Gold|
Weaver's Gold (4.5%) is a different beer entirely. Named for the historic linen history of the area, this beer pours a lovely burnished gold with pillow-y white head. Aromas of pineapple and lychee waft enticingly out of the glass. On first sip these flavours jostle for the attention of the tongue but soon disappear to be replaced by the shortcake maltiness of the Irish Red and end with a brief bitter spike leaving a clean palate and a need for another glug. I would have liked the hops to have lasted a bit longer. This is the beer using American hops and its definitely apparent, but their flavour is all too brief for my liking. Again I'd try this fresh to see if more of that hop flavour is retained. I definitely see it as more of a blonde ale than the lager that Tania found it to be.
|Clanconnel McGrath's Irish Black|
The final beer is one I've tried and enjoyed many times before. McGrath's Irish Black is the 2010 Champion Beer of Belfast and its easy to see why. This is the stout that Guinness probably used to be and wishes it still was. Its the best session-strength stout that I've tried. A good looking dark stout with a roasted coffee/earthy aroma. Stouts that still retain the aroma profile of porters score highly for me. Fairly thick in body with a light brown head that is retained down the glass. Chocolate malt flavours preside over the proceedings at first dry and roasted, giving way to a mellow finish and caramelised malt aftertaste.This is a beer that is even better on cask than it is in bottle and I hope to see it at Belfast Beer Festival again this year.
Clanconnel, then, is a good solid brewery, I'd like to see their beers more widely available in the North, though as ever they're fighting an uphill battle against the monolith that is Diageo. It would be great for them to expand the range with a few specials too. I recommend having a pint if you see these on draught anywhere and be sure to visit the Vineyard if you are in Belfast, at £2.04 a bottle these beers are a steal!