Behind the taps at the Belfast Beer & Cider Festival were a number of strong beers being poured directly from the cask. I didn't mean to try every single one that was on, but looking at the list now, I think I did. Oops.
The only pale one was Thomas Sykes, a very heavy amber ale from Burton Bridge, with 10% ABV. This has off-putting strong fruit ester flavours making it warming but just a bit too cloying and difficult to stomach in any great quantity. I derived much more enjoyment from the rich hoppiness of Titanic Wreckage: a lightweight at only 7.2%. There's a little more sugar in the flavour than is strictly warranted, but mostly it has a lovely rounded double (or at least one-and-a-half) IPA kick to it.
Robinson's Old Tom was one I had really been looking forward to. It must have been on trying something like this dark red ale of 8.5% ABV that someone invented the term "barleywine". This has many of the flavour and aroma characteristics of a robust wine, but is unmistakably a beer. It offers fantastic per-sip value, starting with the exciting fruity and spicy nose all the way through to the chocolatey aftertaste which lingers for ever.
The last beer is the charmingly titled Liquid Lobotomy, an 8% ABV stout whose claim to fame is that all the alcohol is grain-derived, with no added extract or sugars. The aroma is a little shocking, with pronounced sulphurous notes. On the palate this is reduced to a mere tang, however. The rest of the flavour is rather mild, with more fruity-winey notes. Despite the mildness, the thick and syrupy texture makes this one quite tough going.
I have to put a footnote in about the other side of the festival: the cider. Normally I wouldn't go to the back door for cider, but ever since I read about it in Iorwerth Griffiths's guide to Irish beer and cider (p. 143), I have been intrigued by the nascent government-sponsored craft cider movement in Armagh. I was born and raised in the Orchard County, and the idea that my homeplace could be turned into a cider attraction like parts of Normandy and Brittany feels quite strange, yet has a certain obviousness about it. So I made sure I tried a half of Mac's Dry cider -- sharp, slightly cloudy and up there with the best France has to offer, in my totally unbiased opinion.
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