And so I was off to Cork on a bright and sunny Easter Saturday morning for the headline event of the Irish beer calendar. This year, the Franciscan Well's posters were proclaiming it the "Easter Craft Brewing Festival", which I think definitely has a better ring to it than the old "Easter Beer Festival" or "EasterFest", especially since this year the importers were left out of the line-up and everything on sale in the refurbished covered yard was genuine Irish beer.
A couple of old favourites were making their last public appearances at the gig, including a 20-month-old cask of White Gypsy Cask No. 1 aka Messrs Maguire Imperial. The Laphroaig smokiness was as present as ever with barely a hint of sourness about it, and the cask dispense added a sweet milk chocolate dimension to the stout which I'd never got from the keg version. I also said my goodbyes to Phúca, the Franciscan Well's marvellous celebration winter ale, still tasting as fresh and spicy as it did four months ago. And it was hello and goodbye to Kinsale Lager, the last ever outing of one of Ireland's pioneer craft beer brands. The lager itself, a very pleasant smooth and full-bodied thirst-quencher, was contract brewed at Beamish & Crawford, but with production at the brewery winding down following Heineken's takeover, that arrangement has come to an end. The Franciscan Well festival is a fitting farewell.
But one door closes and all that -- the kit from the Kinsale brewery itself, which made everything but the lager, is now operational in its new home in Templemore. Here, Cuilán Loughnane's long-anticipated White Gypsy brewery has finally started producing beer in its own right (Cuilán remains the brewer at Messrs Maguire, where previous White Gypsy-branded specials had been produced). His first regulars are a Dunkel Lager (recipe still being finalised -- what was on tap was rebadged MM Bock) and an Indian (sic) Pale Ale. The IPA is very much in the English style, a little bit sharp but mostly light and lemony. It's a welcome new addition to the Irish beer scene, though I'm a little disappointed with the whopping 5.2% ABV -- it tastes like it's about 4% and it would be nice to be able to down as if it were.
Though not open a wet week, White Gypsy already has a new brewing company under its wing, in the form of Barrelhead, registered in Dublin but brewing in Templemore. Bull Island Pale Ale was the offering here, and I think it needs work. A very pale yellow ale served on nitro with the accompanying dullness of taste. There's a little bit of sweet caramel to it, much like there is with other smoothflow nitro ales. I can't say I approve, but if it gets a foot in the door for another Irish brewer then I reckon I'll let it past. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for new stuff from Barrelhead in Dublin.
As usual, the team from UCC's pilot brewery (pictured teaching Cuilán a thing or two, left), who I'm told work closely with their counterparts in Weihenstephan, had something vaguely Germanic up their sleeves. This year it was Swiss Pale Bock and I rather liked it. The sugariness in it was rather grainy and it stayed light and crisp rather than heavy or syrupy, despite a sizeable 6% ABV.
The only other new scoop for me was Ireland's Call, a dark ale commissioned by J.D. Wetherspoon's from Hilden. Though very sessionable at 4.3% ABV, it's rich and full of character thanks to a generous dose of chocolate malt. I made my pitch to the brewer for more of their superb wheatbeer, Barney's Brew, but I don't know how far I'll get with that, especially since we don't get to see much of Hilden on this side of the border.
And that was the Easter Festival for another year. It was great talking to my fellow beer aficionados and the brewers, and congratulations to the winners of this year's ICB awards. I'm always so optimistic about the future of Irish beer when I get back from Easter in Cork.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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