20 September 2013

Still got it

The last in my series of posts on the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival, which ran at the RDS in Dublin a couple of weeks ago, moves away from the new young and thrusting breweries of the burgeoning independent Irish beer scene to look at the stalwarts: the veterans of the dark 20th century, all established and churning out safe, approachable, mortgage-paying beers, with one eye on the pension fund.

Are they hell.

Franciscan Well Coffee Porter has been knocking around for a while in a limited bottle run but showed up on cask at the festival. It's 7.5% ABV and they've added just the right amount of coffee, which is to say all the coffee they could possibly stuff in. The aroma delivers the invigorating bang of walking into a roastery and the only beery compromise is the chocolate flavour imparted by the dark malt producing a kind of mocha effect. The rich texture and heavy sweetness add cream and brown sugar to the cup and the end result, in Reuben's words, is "more coffee than beer". Not for everyone, but I loved it. After that, the Franciscan Well IPA was a bit of a let down. 7.5% ABV again and with some nice herbal notes in the aroma but the flavour is mostly smooth sweet toffee with no proper bitterness or fruit, just a mild jasmine spicing from the hops.

The Porterhouse have suddenly decided to make September their IPA themed month, though oddly eschewed Hop Head in favour of a new 4.6% ABV cask ale called Pale Face. There's a nice kick of marmalade in here, and some mild sandalwood, putting it on the same spectrum as good old Harvey's Best. Simple but flavoursome.

Whitewater's new one is Bullrush, a straightforward clean amber lager, dark gold with a fascinating smoky aroma. It's only 4% ABV and represents very light easy drinking. The corny grain character puts me in mind of the cream ale style. One for quaffing, not sitting over, anyway. And they've returned to the log books to resurrect Bee's Endeavour, a honey ale of years gone by. It's a beautiful liquid gold colour with a bohemian golden syrup quality to the taste. The honey hovers subtly in the background.

For a bigger honey kick the one to go for was Belgian Connection, produced at JW Sweetman in collaboration with Carlow Brewing. It's intended as a dubbel and is appropriately dark brown, though is a little light on its feet at 6.3% ABV. The banana esters loom large in the aroma and though the texture is as thin for a dubbel as the ABV might suggest, there's no lacking of complexity or intensity in the flavour: massive honey, for one thing; some incense spicing and a powerful sweetness that triggered pineapple syrup in my flavour analogy bank. Strange and unique, but quite delicious. Carlow also had O'Hara's Barley Wine on the bar, packing a bit more heft at 7.2% ABV. I guess we're spoiled by American barley wines these days because this is a perfectly good beer which left me asking where the hops are. Wheaty grains are the centre of it with a little bit of roast, but otherwise it's simple, malt-forward and warming. Retro barley wine, if you will.

All of which brings us down to the elder statesman in the house: Hilden Brewing. It was great to see Seamus himself at the pumps for a while. New to the range is a keg session stout, well put together with loads of super sweet chocolate and a very slight sour lactic finish. I suspect this may be the final one of the College Green range to be incorporated into the main Hilden brand: a rebadge of Molly's Chocolate Stout. Still, it would be no harm to see it out and about a bit more. Meanwhile on the cask engines, the newbie offered nothing more of a description than Hilden Number 4. It's a dark amber ale of 4.4% ABV and fantastically smooth. There's a big hit of chocolate and lots of sweet nutty marzipan too, combining into a kind of mozartkugel effect. I loved it, its moreish sweet dark malts reminding me of the first time I met Clotworthy Dobbin. Hilden Number 4 takes the prize for my beer of the festival weekend.

And after that my liver and my feet took a well-earned break, but normal service will resume here on Monday.

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