16 February 2015

Let's get this party started

The Irish beer festival calendar got officially under way at the weekend with the Winter & Cask Ales Festival at Franciscan Well in Cork, now in its 5th year. I travelled down a little earlier than usual to check out the Rising Sons brewpub which opened last summer. The management had kindly laid on some pizza for the visitors, and Shane the brewer brought us around behind the scenes.

It's an impressive set-up, the German-built brewkit gleaming in pride of place over the bar. The customers are so close to the action it must smell amazing on brewing days. The 20hL system makes a range of standard and special beers, now sold in over a dozen pubs around Cork, most of them under the same ownership as the brewery.

Mi Daza stout and Sunbeam pils pre-date the brewery but are now produced on site. My first beer on Saturday afternoon was Grainú Ale and the tap badge is highly uninformative about what this is. Turns out it's a witbier, and a good one too, perfect for clearing the travel dust from my throat. It's an orthodox pale hazy blonde and very much at the dry end of the style, low on fruit but compensating with extra spices and quite an assertive waxy bitterness. Once you get used to that you have an ideal quaffing refresher on your hands.

I followed it with Steeple (formerly known as "Steeple Hemp" but recently re-named due to confusion). I'd say this has knocked a few red ale drinkers off their stools. It's big on hops, starting out with a strange bitter chocolate-orange effect, with a touch of coffee roast as well. It's the sort of thing I would expect to be badged as a US-style amber rather than an Irish red, in this drinker's opinion. While I enjoyed the absence of sticky toffee flavours I think I would have preferred something a little smoother.

The house IPA is a 5%-er called Handsum, employing Columbus, Chinook and Vic Secret hops. Dark gold in colour it's surprisingly English-tasting, I thought, going for a dry, sharp and almost metallic bitter tang as its signature flavour. It's certainly invigorating but a little more fruit would have been nice.

For that sort of flavour profile one has to turn to the special editions and Shane gave everyone a taste of Survivor, a rye pale ale that's still in the conditioning tanks. This one is super-citric, packed full of delicious orange and lemon notes. I asked warily if they filter their beers and the answer is no (apart from the pils), so this hazy orange little stunner should remain stunning once it moves the four or five metres to a tap on the bar (edit: from 5th March. edit edit: Survivor has since been re-named as Dream Catcher.)

Also in the tanks was Divil-a-Bit, a 1.064 blonde ale made using La Chouffe yeast. It's not too hot 'n' heavy and has some wonderful spicy flavours: I picked out cinnamon and aniseed in particular.

For actual spices, the tail end of Rising Sons's Christmas seasonal was on tap. Sleigh'R is 5% ABV and a predictable dark red-brown colour. I don't know exactly what blend went in here, but I got suggestions of clove, ginger and nutmeg: the usual sort of stuff. What sets this one apart, however, is that the body is light, not heavy or sugary, which leaves it easy to drink and really quite refreshing, odd as that may sound. The malt provides a kind of Christmas cookies effect but knows when to stop, which is good.

By the time I'd got through all that it was gone 2pm and time to head for the festival. As it happened there was another Rising Sons beer on the line-up there. Changeling is a name the brewery will be using for a sequence of one-offs: not a very consumer-friendly practice, but there you go. This Changeling was a pale ale, and a very good one at that. Lots of fresh, spicy and dank herbal hops bursting out from a lightly effervescent body, all sherbet and baking soda. The malt didn't have much to say for itself here, but I wasn't really listening.

A couple of new breweries made their festival début at the event. I missed the red ale from West Cork Brewery but did catch the 5 Malt Dark Ale by Torc Brewing out of Killarney. It's 4.5% ABV and poured a hazy shade of ochre. There's a lovely mix of jaffa orange, milk chocolate, a little caramel and a slight metallic bitterness, all set on a light body, though not at all watery. The combination of flavours shouldn't really work and from the description seems like it would end up as an overly sweet mess but it's really rather charming and very drinkable.

Our hosts rolled out a Vanilla & Pistachio Brown Ale, the sort of concoction that would turn Alan's knuckles white, and this time his rage would be justified. It's very sugary: thick and soupy though only 4.8% ABV. There's lots of vanilla and maybe a trace of nuttiness, but mostly wave upon wave of jarring caramel candybars. It had its fans on the day but I was not among them.

I had a much better time with the stouts on offer. White Gypsy's Pearl, which I'm guessing is a close relation of this, is a classic cream-and-chocolate Irish stout. Served on nitro it's smooth, but not bland, and satisfyingly sinkable. From the casks there was Independent Strong Porter, a 7% ABV job, massively roasty, especially in the aroma. The texture is very heavy and I got a slight, but not unpleasant, beefy autolytic tang from it. A lovely warmer in a cold winter's beer garden, this.

Stag Rua by 9 White Deer had hitherto eluded me, but here it was, along with its creator. At a meet-the-brewer event, Gordon explained that its roots lie in stout and a need to create a beer that the stout drinkers of west Cork will convert to in the summer. That certainly explains the refreshing absence of sweet crystal malt flavours here. Instead it's relatively dry with a little bit of roasted grain and some mild strawberry fruit sweetness. Most of all though it's thirst-quenching with lots of lovely English-bitter tannins. We're seeing red ales being taken in all sorts of directions by Irish brewers at the moment, but this is my favourite approach so far.

Brewery-mate of Stag Rua is Mountain Man's Sneaky Owl, an English-style dark ale done using Admiral and Bramling Cross hops. There's certainly that signature blackberry flavour from the latter, adding a mouthwatering tart balance to the silky milk chocolate from the dark malt. It's a light and easy-going beer and I rather enjoyed it, a bit like Hobgoblin on a really good day.

I left the powerhouse beers to the end. First up Hi-Viz from Black's of Kinsale. This 8.5% ABV double IPA reminded me a lot of Beoir#1, the 9% ABV double IPA that Black's brewed a year ago as part of a crowd-funding initiative. It has the same luxurious boozy weight and similar tasty spicy orange notes. Of course it doesn't matter whether or not it's a reboot, but it is great to have another double IPA of this quality knocking around. I hope we'll be seeing more of it.

And speaking of beers crowd-sourced from the drinkers, the festival saw the world premiere of Beoir#2, brewed by Trouble to a recipe put together by Reuben. I even threw a pot of hops into this myself back in January. The end result is 7.8% ABV and a beautiful chestnut red, warming and welcoming the drinker with juicy summer fruit and sharper caramelised onions. It certainly tastes the strength but wears it well, remaining perfectly drinkable throughout. I could have handled more than a half but time was marching on and the train home beckoned.

Cheers to all the team at Rising Sons and Franciscan Well for the day out. I'll be back for the Easter Festival, but before that it's Alltech Brews & Food in less than a fortnight.


  1. summarises the day perfectly, we didn't half polish off a lot of halves! 31 over the weekend it seems (though some were shared halves). CulchieM has already overtaken me (he had some bottles at home) but I've more to get through!

    i look quite aggressive up against the bar there though!

    1. Everybody is terrified of you. I thought you knew that.

  2. Professor Pie-Tin9:50 pm

    The Rising Sons is pretty much my first port of call when visiting Cork these days - once again Benny McCabe has proved that if you build it they will come.
    Apart from the generally interesting beers - and some of the early efforts have been a bit hit and miss with a fairly predictable journey down the strong and hoppy route - there's a very good heated smoking area at the front.Here and Benny's Crane Lane gaff are some of the few places in Cork where I can spend 45 minutes smoking a good Cuban and knocking back a couple of pints while reading the paper.
    I only wish they'd do something about the TV policy - it's fine having a gazillion TVs on every wall for the big matches but you wander in sometimes during the day and there's some obscure Eurosport nonsense hitting your senses from every angle.
    It's just a small quibble though because Cork has been crying out for somewhere like this and Benny,as usual, is on the ball.
    His gents toilets are a triumph - an ironic mixing and matching of those horrible avocado and blue toilets and wash basins from a couple of decades ago.
    Bogs are generally an after-thought in pubs but Benny puts as much thought into them as the rest of the design.
    Glad you enjoyed the trip.

    1. Yeah, the tellies are a bit excessive.

  3. Shame to miss out but I needed a weekend where I'm physically at home doing absolutely nothing. A rare thing these days.

  4. Anonymous7:24 pm

    Rising Sons just reminds me how much we need a Galway Bay pub In Cork. Yes their house beers are fine but unlike Galway Bay they don't seem to have much interest in guest beers - plenty of macro though......
    The cynic in me thinks Mr, McCabe only built the place to supply his own bars all of which stock 'craft beer' from Rising sons but very little else.
    Cork is well stocked with brew pubs now; Rising Sons, San Fran, Porterhouse, Elbow lane, Cotton Ball, but aside from The Bierhaus and to a lesser extent The Friary and Abbots we are lacking true craft beer bars.
    Sorry about the moan!

    1. There was a Camden tap in Rising Sons, so it looks like the Grand Cru van is coming to Cork at least.

  5. It was a great day. I do remember most of the beers I tried were spot on with only one or two misfires. I think I managed to tick off the whole board but it was a pity we didn't get to try the Model T that was waiting to be tapped.

    1. Not to mention the West Cork red that we missed. Oh well, that's why the beer gods created Alltech Brews & Food.

  6. Interesting fact about Rising Sons brewhouse is that it is on a plinth that is suspended from the ceiling. It looks like it's being supported by the floor, but it's not. The floor wasn't designed to support that sort of weight.

    1. Some serious structural pornography right there.