Northern Irish Beer: Whitewater Brewery
After the disappointment of the Strangford Lough and College Green brewery bottles – beers that had been difficult to find but uninspiring to drink, although in one case probably due to the expiry date – it was good to come back to Whitewater Brewery. Whitewater bottled beers are increasingly easy to get hold of where I live in County Antrim: they’re in the big supermarkets as well as the better off licences. This is impressive in Northern Ireland.
Whitewater’s been going since 1996 and is based in Kilkeel in South Down. Although three of their beers start with the word “Belfast”, in Northern Irish terms that’s a fair distance from the capital. However, they do seem to make reference to using yeast from an/the old Belfast Brewery.
On New Year’s Eve Kate and I decided to have a quiet night in, cook a nice dinner of salsa and garlic chicken and enjoy these beers in front of a real fire.
Whitewater Brewery Belfast Lager (4.5%)
The label says “crisp and full flavoured, this refreshing continental-style premium lager is brewed with the finest Saaz hops giving a beer rich in aroma and taste“. It poured a light golden colour with a white head that dispersed quickly. The smell was a malty lager one with a little sweet bubblegum. It had a satisfying clean refreshing taste with a crisp lemongrass bitterness.
My brother enjoyed this beer a lot over Christmas and it could easily win over lager drinkers generally to local craft beer. A very good crossover beer that doesn’t dumb down.
Whitewater Brewery Belfast Ale (4.5%)
“A dark amber ale with a wonderful rich malt flavour and earthy aroma, brewed with three different hop varieties creating a distinctive bitterness and smooth finish”.
I had originally considered this the least interesting of Whitewater’s beers. The appearance and taste is of caramel. It has a slight sweet malty bitterness with a subtle fresh hoppiness. It reminds me of Smithwicks with a bit more malty body and a more satisfactory amount of hops. Again, this seems like a clever and competent improvement on a style that is already reasonably familiar to a fairly inexperienced market.
Whitewater Brewery Belfast Black (4.2%)
Now if there’s a style Northern Irish beer drinkers are familiar with, it’s stout. This stout has a roasted smell which carries a smokiness through into the dry taste. It’s not a very powerfully tasting stout, less viscous and sweet than stronger examples. However it’s a more interesting drink than Guinness Original at the same ABV and that seems to be what it’s aiming for.
Whitewater Brewery Clotworthy Dobbin (5.0%)
“Clotworthy Dobbin was an accomplished Belfast brewer making the finest of ales back in the early 1800s. Clotworthy’s tradition continues today in the heart of Ireland’s famous Mountains of Mourne at the Whitewater Brewery … Made using the finest natural ingredients taken from the Mountains of Mourne and yeast from the Old Belfast Brewery itself, this wonderful russet coloured ale with its signature fruity aroma would surely be worthy of Clotworthy himself.”
There’s only one Northern Irish beer in 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die and Clotworthy is the man himself. It pours a deep reddish brown with a creamy yellow head. It smells of rum and raisins and tastes of a rich, malty syrupy spiciness, with a burnt sugar bitterness. It’s not as thick and spicy as a Theakston’s Old Peculier (which is slightly stronger), but it’s a very good winter beer. I strongly recommend having it with a homemade mince pie and maybe a bit of mature Coleraine Cheddar.
It really is very heartening to find a brewery in Northern Ireland which appears (from the availability) to be succeeding on the basis of a solid range of traditional-style beers, all of which are as good or better than the comparable products of the big boys. It’s only a shame that, due to the very limited availability of cask generally in Northern Ireland and near where my parents live in particular, I’ve not had time to hunt out and try more of their cask beers, which also look interesting and branch out into less traditional styles.