25 November 2007

CAMRA, action!

Yesterday I paid my first visit to a CAMRA-organised event, the 2007 Belfast Beer & Cider Festival at the King's Hall. I was in early and spent the whole afternoon merrily ticking away. I'll be needing two posts to cover everything, so here goes:

Dragon's Fire was one of the first up, a light ale from J.W. Lees. This has a powerful raw maltiness of the sort you get from chewing grains of crystal malt. There's very little bitterness or alcoholic weight to it which, coupled with the sweetness, put me in mind of an unhopped, unfermented wort. Tasty, but curious. Another pleasant odd one was Tom Wood's Old Timber which does exactly what it says on the pump clip, giving off a strong woody aroma and having a sharp woody foretaste, followed by tea-like notes and a touch of burnt corn right on the end.

Staying on the light side of the colour chart, there's the gloriously-named Tabitha the Knackered. It wasn't just the name that intrigued me: the festival programme described this as a "Belgian style warming Tripel", yet having only 4% ABV.The answer to the enigma was a rather disappointing straw-coloured lagery quaffing beer. A better session option is the legendary Woodforde's Wherry, perhaps best known in its homebrew kit form. This is a pale amber bitter with light hops on the nose and almost no carbonation. Coupled with a slightly thin mouthfeel and only 3.8% ABV, this gently citric ale goes down very easily and pleasantly.

There were a couple of beers on from Fyne Ales in Scotland. I tried out Vital Spark, a dark amber bitter, marvellously smooth with a chocolate-and-hops character and some strong tannic notes at the end. Thrappledouser is another deep orange Scot, mildly and refreshingly hoppy. The award for best use of hops, however, goes to Pressed Rat & Warthog by the Triple fff brewery of Hampshire. This deep dark ruby ale has a powerful hoppy aroma and delivers an electric hops burst to the back teeth at first sip. If one takes the time to savour it, there's a tart and sweet peachy flavour at the front of the tongue backed up by some tea-like tannins. This one's a full mouth workout.

On to the dark side, then. Adnams Old Ale, while not a stout, has smooth roasted stouty flavours with just an added pinch of vanilla. More complex is Black Adder, which has a sweet and malty nose and a big mouthfeel. The foretaste carries a sense of the forest floor: earthy, mushroomy. After that there are pleasant bitter coffee notes and a wisp of smoke. Dark Island from the Orkney brewery is another smoky dark one, but quite easy drinking with it: I'd expect nothing less from the home of Skullsplitter.

Finishing off the dark section are two superbly well-crafted beers: Black Dog from Elgood's is a mild, and is the appropriate shade of very dark brown. There's a distinct hoppiness and a slightly fruity crab apple bitterness, but they're balanced beautifully with the warm roasted notes of the classic mild. A slightly thin mouthfeel make this very moreish and a beer I'd love to spend more quality time with. On the heavier side is O'Hanlon's Port Stout: a powerful, filling, satisfying beer. The ruby port with which it is laced is present on the nose, but not so much in the taste. Instead there's an intense coffee bitterness coupled with dry and malty stout flavours. A beauty.

That's a run through the lower strength beers on offer. However, a range of top-shelf casks were available to the discerning and/or foolhardy strictly by the half pint only. These powerhouses will be the subject of my next post.

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