As usual I trooped down to the Franciscan Well on Easter Saturday for their annual festival of Irish beers. There's generally a wide range of offerings at this, and 2013 was no exception, despite a no-show from the UCC Pilot Brewery to add their own Germanic flavour. Yet amongst all the variety I noticed a bit of a theme in the beers I drank: amber and hoppy is where it's at.
I set the tone with Garnet, a two-Chameleons-ago amber ale by Metalman. A bit of a candystore beer, this, mixing rich and buttery Werther's Originals with tangy Refresher chews. Though light and very drinkable it leaves a long and satisfying aftertaste. Up at the Dungarvan stand, Cormac was pouring Mahon Falls, a rye pale ale based on the one they had, briefly, at the Dublin festival last September. Although the recipe has been altered slightly there's still no grassy rye flavours in here, which is great. Instead you get a puckeringly bitter grapefruit bite, followed up by softer and juicier peach notes. At almost 5% ABV it's on the strong side for a Dungarvan beer, though the malt contributes little to the flavour other than a platform to carry extra hops.
Meanwhile, around at the White Gypsy bar there was the welcome return of Mustang, a pale ale I've heard much about but never got to taste before. It's a 6.5% ABV American-style pale ale, though definitely on the amber end of the colour scale. I was expecting big and hoppy but it's much more complex than that, including some smoke in with the tangy citrus and dank funk and toffee. Half a pint didn't do it justice. There was also a rather nice Cascade-dry-hopped cask special of Trouble Sabotage: its weight and warmth proving an ideal antidote to the chilly conditions.
So much for the amber, let's get some gold and black in for balance. Seven Windows Brewery is due to open in Cork before the end of the year. Mi Daza stout was the first beer produced under the brand, contract brewed at Franciscan Well, and it's joined now by Sunbeam pils. It's a very pale yellow but is beautifully put together, starting with fresh lemon sherbet and ending on lovely digestive biscuit. Very moreish.
Galway Hooker, meanwhile, had brought along their enigmatic stout-of-many-names. Originally called Bonaparte it can also be found labelled as Dark Haus and BH001 although here it was simply badged Galway Hooker Irish Stout. Though light of texture it's fantastically creamy and big on the chocolate flavours, but suffered a little from being served very cold.
I know how it feels too. After a few hours wandering about the chilly yard I took shelter in the upstairs bar where festival punters were being treated to an unexpected boon from Molson Coors's takeover of Franciscan Well: a range of cask beers from Sharp's. Not an unqualified boon, mind: yawnworthy Doom Bar was there, joined by the equally dull and grainy Cornish Coaster, plasticine flavoured Sharp's Special, boring brown Sharp's Own and the almost completely tasteless '90s throwback Sharp's Ice. But I'm less willing to hurl insults at Black Rock IPA, a fairly simple black IPA with a fun white lemonade flavour and a mild acidic bite. The highlight for me, however, was Panzerfaust, a black gose. This has a beautiful sherbet piquancy to it with darker treacle overtones and served barely carbonated for supreme drinkability. Molson Coors appear to be ramping up their presence on the Irish beer scene more and more. Further beer of Panzerfaust quality would be a welcome intrusion.
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