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Five Irish Christmas brews --- reviewed by people who don't normally do this sort of thing for a living

“I’m more of a wine snob… I’ve never tried being a beer snob before.”

LOOKING FOR AN alternative after-dinner drink this Christmas?

If you have any beer aficionados dropping by, one of the below might well do the job.

With more and more Irish craft beers filling the shelves of our off-licences in recent months — we thought we’d give some of the brewers’ ‘one off’ beverages a try.

‘One off’ isn’t strictly accurate, in fact.

Some of these seasonal brews appeared last year too. Others — like the Cherry Chocolate Stout from Trouble Brewing and the Ginger Chocolate Porter from Rascal’s Brewing — are new additions to the Christmas list.

Several of TheJournal.ie‘s hardest working staffers (top 20, at least) gathered after work this week to test-drive these ales, stouts and porters.

Bear in mind — none of us do this sort of thing for a living.

And as one reporter noted:

I’m more of a wine snob. I’ve never tried being a beer snob before.

Nevertheless…

Here’s our take, on these limited supply take-outs…

1. SANITY CLAUSE ALE

Source: Whitewater

Who makes it? Co Down based brewery Whitewater.

What they say: “Our seasonal Christmas ale. This is dark and rich, full of fruity flavour with the addition of nutmeg and cinnamon. Best served with your feet up in front of a fire.”

What we say: 

“I like the name. Someone’s been watching the Marx Brothers.

 

“Nice. Has a bit of a darker, wintery feel to it than a standard lager. It’s kind of tobacco-ey — which isn’t an unpleasant thing.” 

“It’s sweet. It’s Christmassy in a kind of ‘I’ve just been out cutting logs for the fire and I need a nice refreshing drink’ sort of way.” 

“Quite a strong taste … definitely more The Pogues than Mariah Carey.”

Where can I get it? All across the North. Whitewater beers are also on tap at several Dublin pubs — including The Black Sheep, Porterhouse Central, The Brewdock and Against The Grain.

2. DUNGARVAN COFFEE AND OATMEAL STOUT

Source: Dungarvan Brewing Company

Who makes it? The Dungarvan Brewing Company, based in Waterford.

What they say: ”A rich, full-flavoured stout with a powdery dry chocolate mouthfeel. Smoothness from the oats adds balance to the roasted bitterness while in the background there’s a subtle hint of the earthy espresso flavours which leads to a dry coffee finish.”

What we say: 

“Coffee… You can really taste the coffee… Not so much the oatmeal.”

“It seems really different at first… But it’s growing on me. I like it.” 

“Mature, strong. It’s something you could drink all year — not particularly a Christmas Day thing, it’s more of a nice alternative to a regular bottle of stout.” 

Where can I get it?: Pretty much anywhere you’d expect to stock craft beers. There’s a full list on the Dungarvan website. By the way, the seasonal stout is released by the brewery every winter. They say it’s now “annually anticipated”.

3. O’HARA’S WINTER STAR 

Source: O'Hara's

Who makes it? O’Hara’s — the Carlow Brewing Company.

What they say: ”The orange zest and mild coconut flavours are the first to hit the palette, closely followed by the warmth of cinnamon spices mellowed in the orange essence. Dual purpose hops finish the aroma combination adding just a touch of evergreen, perfect for this winter amber ale.”

What we say:

“Cinnamon-ey. Very cinnamon-ey. It grows on you. The taste seems a little in-your-face at first, but you get used to it very quickly. 

“Has a nice bitterness to to it, which I like. The more you drink the better it tastes. 

“Yep — you’re right … More I drink it, the more I like it. 

Where can I get it? Again, O’Hara’s is pretty widely available. Check out your local independent off-licence.

TROUBLE BREWING CHERRY CHOCOLATE STOUT

Who makes it? The Kildare-based Trouble Brewing.

What they say: “With a chocolate and light roast malt aroma, this stout’s initial bitter chocolate flavour is quickly replaced by rich complex malt flavours, leaving a lingering sweet cherry and dark fruit taste.”

What we say: 

“It smells kind of like coffee — that’s nice.”

“That’s very Christmassy.. It tastes kind of like the sort of chocolate liqueurs you’d have after your Christmas dinner… Like a dark chocolate cherry liqueur.” 

“It kind of tastes a bit like dark rum… which is weird, because you know it’s not, and it has the consistency of beer. It’s an odd one.” 

“It’s a real after-dinner style thing I think.” 

Where can I get it? “At  good craft beer bars,” the brewers told us. Here’s a list of the pubs that stock Trouble Brewing.

RASCAL’S CHOCOLATE GINGER PORTER

Who makes it? Dublin’s Rascal’s Brewing Company.

What they say: “This award winning beer is brewed with a unique combination of ingredients. Cacao nibs deliver a deep, rich chocolate flavour to compliment the dark roasted malts while fresh root ginger adds a distinct zing and balance to this very special porter.”

What we say:

“It’s not heavy, like stouts… They say it’s ‘zingy’?… It is. It is zingy.”

“It’s quite nice — yep, smooth… And I’m not a stout person.” 

“It’s very smooth. Quite pleasant to drink. I don’t normally drink stout, because I find it too heavy — I couldn’t drink a pint of it. But I could drink more of this. The bottle is great too — it’s the sort of thing you could turn up with at a party, if you wanted a gift for someone who didn’t drink wine.” 

“When you open it, it pops like champagne too — which is nice, very festive.”

 

Where can I get it? Independent off licences like McHughs, Deveneys, Baggot Street Wines, Martins of Fairview, Drinkstore in Stoneybatter, Dicey Reillys in Ballyshannon and Bradley’s in Cork. There’s a full list here.

Read: Guinness is making two new beers – and here’s what they’ll look like

Read: (Micro)brewing up a storm: How Ireland’s craft beers are making their mark

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