Festival season kicked off a couple of weeks ago with the first of 2013: the Franciscan Well's Cask and Winter Ale Festival in Cork. The emphasis was very much on the first part of the offer, with a little over 20 cask beers available in the covered beer garden, though not much that was particularly wintery.
Among the highlights was a return of Franciscan Well's wonderfully spicy Alpha Dawg IPA and a superb dry-hopped edition of Trouble Brewing's Ór golden ale. Just two on the list were completely new to me, and curiously enough they had something in common.
One was White Gypsy's Amber, a 5% ABV pale ale which I'd narrowly missed at the big festival in Dublin last September. It's a pale amber shade and quite sweet: packed with all manner of fruit flavours. The tasting committee around the table picked out peach, lychee, banana and vanilla. I got more than a hint of chewy Refresher sweets too. Not suitable for hopheads but I really enjoyed it. It's not the first beer from White Gypsy to be called Amber: a couple of years ago Amber was an excellent Munich-style lager. Hopefully nobody was expecting the lager when they ordered this, and hopefully also we'll see the old award-winning Amber back at some point, under the same badge or another.
The second new one was Chameleon Bräu, a "lager-style" blonde by Metalman. It's quite a simple beer but does what it does exceedingly well, blending dry grain notes with clean lemon zest. There's perhaps a hint of diacetyl butterscotch on the finish, but nowhere near enough to spoil it. So I was perfectly happy about the taste, but the name makes me grumpy.
Originally, Chameleon was a single beer which was altered in various ways before serving, so there was a chilli version and a variety of dry-hopped editions: a neat idea and fun to explore. But then late last year there came Chamelon Garnet: a completely new beer with a recipe unrelated to the earlier Chameleons. Now Chameleon Bräu is something different again. The official line from the brewery is that the Chameleon range is a series of small batches and experiments, just like the first ones were. That's fair enough, but surely the customer should be allowed to expect that a beer with the same name has something in common with previous ones. I could understand "Bräu: part of the Chameleon series", but "Chameleon Bräu" raises a customer expectation that isn't met. In this customer, at least. Galway Bay Brewery used to practise this unfriendly naming method with their Strange Brew series, but thankfully that has been knocked on the head now: every beer gets an individual name and this makes them much easier to talk about.
Still, it's nice to be whinging about beer nomenclature rather than beer quality. No complaints about the latter at this festival.
While in Cork I also took the opportunity to call in at the new branch of the Porterhouse in the Mardyke Centre, not far from Franciscan Well. They've done a lovely job here, creating a comfortable spacious pub with an atmospheric vaulted ceiling, the usual great range of Porterhouse beers and best of all, a full-length shuffleboard table:
Every pub should have one.