Barry & Fitzwilliam. It was more a trade fair than a festival, set in a hotel function space on a Friday afternoon and offering journos and retailers the opportunity to meet with brewers and cider-makers, and taste their wares. Most of the breweries were relative newcomers to the scene and for me it was a chance to try some of the new additions they'd added to their existing ranges.
Munster Brewery was a case in point. I covered its first two beers here and the new one is the first non-lager: 12 Towers red ale. It's quite pale for the style, but has a fairly typical ABV of 4.2%. In what may be another sign of the evolution of the style away from toffee-laden crystal malt showcases, this one is light and refreshing with a sherbety spice to it, gently primed and conditioned in the bottle for a pleasantly understated prickle of carbonation. Better than you might expect for something calling itself an Irish red.
At the next table over, Liam from St. Mel's was pouring his latest seasonal: Spring Bock. It's a bock. For the spring, like. Pale bocks are pretty rare in Irish brewing, and it's another style where the real thing doesn't usually put a smile on my face. This one did, though. Darkly gold and properly weighty at 5.6% ABV it doesn't have the big horrible melted plastic thing I often get from strongly hopped German-style beers. Instead the clean lager base buoys up a random and unexpected smoky note. Since there's no smoked malt involved, this is probably one of those things that counts as a technical flaw, but it's one this drinker is perfectly happy to tolerate, nay encourage.
Keeping things Teutonic, relative veterans Bo Bristle were at the event, ably represented by brewer Dave. Shamefully, I'd never tasted Bo Bristle Pilsner so made sure to put that right. It presents very very pale and smells worryingly... uric. Thankfully the flavour is entirely piss-free, Mount Hood hops giving it a decent kick of bitterness with gentler green flavours coming from the Hersbrucker. It's a tough one to judge on just a small sample: I think it's made for pinting and I'd be very willing to try that at some stage.
Into every trade fair a little rain must fall, and the disappointment of the evening, for me, came in the form of West Mayo's Clifford's Connacht Champion golden ale. I've previously pointed out there's a big diactyl issue with their red, and this one too is more Danish butter cookies than beer. The extra hopping gives it a spicing which, unlike the red, means it isn't a complete disaster, but pale ales from an established brewery should not be coming out this mucky.
I mentioned Tyrone brewery Pokertree last week, and owner-operator Darren was pouring his beers at the event. It was my first chance to try Seven Sisters, a 5.2% ABV treacle and oat stout. It's lighter than the description suggests, but more than your typical roasty flavours or any dark sugars, I got a kind of beefy, Bovril-esque flavour. The calling card of autolysis? Possibly. It was still perfectly drinkable, just a little unsettling.
Darren was over in Manchester recently, putting together a collaboration brew with Marble. The result is a pale ale named after the infant heir to the Pokertree empire: Little Barney. This is 5% ABV, amber coloured and extremely dry, with a definite astringency coming through in the flavour, reminding me of cranberries in particular, while the strong aroma is all fresh damp grass. It's one of those beers that requires a moment or two of palate recalibration, but is worth the effort.
It wasn't the best beer I tried, however. That honour goes to a new start-up operation from Laois called 12 Acres. They're currently using 9 White Deer's brewing facilities but, here comes the USP, the malt is home-grown. The family farm has been producing malting barley for years. Now they've started asking Boortmalt to separate their crop and give it back to them when malted. That's then used (with a bit of extra Munich malt) to make 12 Acres Pale Ale.
It's 4.6% ABV and golden in colour. The hop aroma is powerfully sweet, perfumed even. They've made good use of Citra, giving the floral sweetness just enough balancing bitterness. A superb refresher with plenty of complexity at a modest strength.
Thanks to all the brewers for their generous samples, and to the Barry & Fitzwilliam guys for inviting me. More wandering around event space with a plastic beer receptacle coming up...
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