16 December 2015

Festival leftovers

A postscript to the 2015 Belfast Beer Festival to mention, to begin with, a couple of English beers I tried in what was otherwise an all-Norn Iron session for me.

Hawkshead Windermere Pale Ale impressed, even on an overwrought palate late in the day. Quite a feat, considering it's a light 3.5% ABV. It doesn't try to pack too much into this, but what's there is good: a gentle lemon spritz on smooth biscuity malt with a light and thoroughly quaffable texture. A simple pleasure, but no less a pleasure for that.

And on the way out the door, Hopback Citra. I found this surprisingly malt-driven: if you stick the name of a hop on the badge -- and especially a high-octane one like Citra -- you really are obliged to make your beer taste of it. What hop character there is is severely bitter and ends abruptly leaving nothing in its wake. It's the sort of beer I might quite enjoy a pint of in an English pub, but I wasn't in the mood to deal with it at this point of my day out.

And so back to Central Station and the early evening train home. Richard had been busy before the festival, dropping up to The Vineyard for takeaways, and he was kind enough to share a few tinnies with Andrew and me on the trundle back to Dublin.

The first open was Madness by Wild Beer Co. I was gung-ho for this IPA, following a delightful experience with its stablemate Bibble during the summer. This one didn't do so much to impress. I mean, it's very nice and all that -- lots of bitter pith, a sizeable chewy dank element, and balanced on a filling toffee base -- but I couldn't help feeling I'd tasted it before. Maybe if I'm this bored with quality IPAs, the problem is with me not them, though I did also think that 6.8% ABV is a little excessive for what it delivers.

That was followed by a lighter beer: Eternal session IPA from Northern Monk. There's an intense dryness here, a chalky mineral quality and a slightly harsh acridity from the hops which are at the centre. Did I detect a bit of cardboard-pulp oxidation too? My notes say I might have, but judging from the state of this guy's handwriting I don't think I'd trust him. A nice clean finish ends it and the sum is a beer that's a bit more serious and severe than is warranted in a 4.1% ABV session ale.

And one token American to bring us home: Mountain Livin' by Crazy Mountain in (where else?) Colorado. It's fine: rich warming malt at the front, a pinch of bitter hops at the end. 6% ABV, but could probably pass for more, and perhaps a little too strong and heavy for the outdoor refreshment purpose the brewer has in mind.

We rolled into Connolly then rolled across to the street to The Brew Dock, the traditional finishing point for any international beer adventure worth its salt. It was a fun day out, but it also served to remind me that I really should set aside some time in 2016 to visit the new craft beer pubs in Belfast. Fingers crossed for a crash in the value of sterling.