Tasting in progress Is there a new beer in town? A purely Irish drink from the Irish craft breweries that we can claim as our own?

The BeerNut first described Galway Hooker with "The makers claim 'Irish Pale Ale' is a new genre, which I was a bit sceptical about but now I can see where they're coming from. This has a touch of the caramel of the classic Irish red, but also a whole lot of the green, vegetal hops of the textbook IPA."

This distinct vegetal hops and hint of caramel I claim marks out many of the new Irish ales. Other wiser heads from Beoir disagreed but, showing an impressive resolve to both prove me wrong and to drink beer, they agreed to come along for a blind test.

These Irish ales are a session drink. You can settle down for a night with them and know that in the morning you will still be glad to have stayed out with them. Choosing a drink is a game of Shag, Marry, Kill. You have to pick what to tie the knot with for a long-term relationship, what is worth the occasional dalliance, and what to avoid completely. Macro lagers are kill, obviously. A Brewdog Tokyo* will flirt with you from behind a bar. Hell, you might go for a quick knee trembler with a Stone IPA in the beer garden. These strong racy imports are the one night stand shag of the beer world. You know in your heart that for your regular drink you want the big freckled refreshing bosom of something more local. Irish ales are the marrying kind you can take back to your parents.

So how could we tell if these nuptial-inspiring Irish ales really were their own drink? If I handed a group of beer nerds some stouts and some porters, and they could not say which was which, that would imply that stouts and porters are the same thing.

Beer tasting with a_friend_in_mead, Bogmyrtle and Wallicebiy. Jollity not picturedIn the same way, if we could tell the Irish Pale Ales from imported pale ales then they might be a distinctive new style of beer.

The beers used in the tasting were:

and the American beer was:

This was on draught and with a RateBeer score of 96 would really show if the Irish beers could compete with world famous ones. This seems to be the go-to beer for American beer fans when they want something simple and not a wine-strength hop monster that is more seething with resentment than just simply bitter.

TheBeerNut is set an arduous task The beers were tasted blind. Guinea pigs were asked to list how much they liked each and ideally what beer they thought it was.

In terms of favourites, people espoused:

  • 2 for O'Hara's
  • 2 for Galway Hooker
  • 1 for Sierra Nevada
  • 1 for Buckley's

Buckley's got really high rankings, no one disliked this beer. This beer is sold only in a few pubs which makes its high showing even more impressive.

Sierra Nevada and O'Hara's IPA were mixed up by nearly everyone. Five out of seven of us mixed them. Five of us also voted what was actually O'Hara's as our favoured beer over Sierra Nevada. The voting classed O'Hara's as preferred to one of the classic ales of the world when tasted blind. This shows that O'Hara's Pale Ale is a really good beer. The two being mixed up seems to show that Irish Pale Ale doesn't exist as a separate style, though.

Galway Hooker was joint winner. Also it was a quite distinctive beer that people recognised. Many of us stayed hitched to this beer all evening after the blind tasting finished. Both distinctive and popular, the evidence shows the true quality of Hooker.
The Pressure is really starting to show
Galway Hooker and O'Hara's IPA blind tasted show themselves to be great beers. Buckley's had a better overall ranking than Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which is impressive.

Thanks to the Bull and Castle for continuing to support our weird customer-scaring blind tastings and to everyone who came along and tried the beers. I had a great fun night being proved wrong with beer science. Irish Pale Ale does not seem to exist as a style but we know there are many Irish ales worthy of wedlock. So next time your eyes meet a new Irish Ale from across the crowded pub go over and introduce yourself -- it could be the start of a long, beautiful, refreshing friendship.

More photos.

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