11 December 2015

Partying against the darkness

Quartiere in Fermento, Dublin's Italian craft beer festival, was back on the Millennium Walkway last month. It was getting late on a blustery Sunday night when I got there but the party was in full swing, the crowd of punters revelling in the beer, cheese and cooked food laid on by the Wallace Winebars folk. Four breweries were in attendance: Extraomnes, Loverbeer, Foglie d'Erba and Montegioco, each pouring two beers at a time in rotation.

I didn't see a whole lot of rotation, however, and only managed three different beers from one of the exhibitors: Extraomnes. Extraomnes Saison was my opener, a strange beast. It's 6.9% ABV but could pass for much stronger, being heavy with hot banana esters and a filling texture. Normally I'd run a mile from this sort of saison but there was a beautiful sharp perfume spice here that really added a fun edge to it, as well as a dry husky grain centre, more typical of saison. Not a refreshing beer, but an ideal saison for al fresco winter drinking.

Extraomnes Bruin was even hotter again, but that's to be expected from this dense dark brown 8%-er. Sticky toffee and liquorice open it up, followed by fig pudding and turning phenolic at the end. There's a lot going on but it works well. If you don't have a rainswept street to drink it in, a fireside will do just as good.

And the last of this brewery's hugs-in-a-Teku was Extraomnes Donker, raising the bar to 9% ABV. It's a coffee-infused imperial stout and the added ingredient has really taken over. There's espresso in the aroma, fresh roast in the foretaste and then it warms all the way down the oesophagus. A touch of putty spoils it a little, but other than that it's one for the coffee lovers. Personally, I'd have preferred a bit more of a stout quality.

To top out the ABV-chasing, Montegioco's Draco, at 11%. Like the Bruin it's brown coloured and loaded with boozy heat but there are nuances too. It has a spicy Belgian yeast character and a pronounced honey flavour in the finish, alongside all the toffee, caramel and figs you might expect. It's an unapologetic bruiser of a beer, but quite a fun one, and offers plenty of character even in small doses.

Foglie d'Erba had nothing I hadn't tasted before but everyone was impressed by their Babél IPA, so I had another one of those, and really enjoyed it.

We pass then to Loverbeer and I was overjoyed to see Valter had brought two new ones for me. The glass of Griotta came with a story: it's part of the Saison de l'Ouvrier series, variations on a basic saison: each flavoured with a different addition. This one uses sour cherries. It's bright red with a pink foam and the flavour offers a strange parallel hit of sweet cherry candy and dirty musty funk for a weird kind of good-and-evil effect. It's almost very good but is a little too odd for my liking: more interesting than purely enjoyable.

Next to it, a sour beer flavoured with apricots called For Fan. That name writes a pretty big cheque, calling to mind as it does Cantillon's legendary apricot gueuze Fou'Foune. Talk about managing customer expectations! Fortunately, this pulls it off perfectly: it tastes like a bona fide glass of Belgian happiness. There's all the mineral nitre poke of proper lambic with a lacing of moist fruit providing a succulent balance. It's beautifully thirst-quenching and, despite an immodest 7% ABV strength, extremely drinkable. Gorgeous stuff.

But no sooner had I got through that lot than the bar was being struck and packed away for another year. Congratulations to Fionn and his guests for putting on such a wonderful show.