The Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock really pulled it out of the bag for the most recent JD Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival. Eleven beers, almost the full compliment of handpumps, were pouring when I called in on a quiet Sunday afternoon, the first of the festival. I had cycled there with my fingers metaphorically crossed for Pacific, brewed by Melbourne's Thunder Road at Adnams. And sure enough, there it was. It's a pale gold colour and the flavour is a complex mix of sweet orange candy and exotic jasmine perfume. The texture is all light and fluffy sherbet and it was just the fruity refresher I was looking for at the end of my half-hour bike ride. It does run the risk of getting overly sweet as it warms, but that was not going to happen.
It was on to the thirds after that. Titanic Plum Porter is even plummy in colour, a purpleish tint to its dark brown. The two elements fight it out for dominance in the flavour: a jammy plum sweetness and a bitter dark chocolate malt. The jam wins, with the malt having to content itself with being just a flourish in the finish. I don't normally have a problem with sweet fruit beers but I think I might struggle through a pint of this.
Next to it, Bravo Four Point by Devils Backbone. The branding and presentation say pale, hop-forward: all great, and brewed at... oh. Caledonian. Usually the booby prize at the Wetherspoon festivals. And so it is here: an acrid, fusty burlap taste on a heavy body, managing to be chokingly dry and cloyingly sweet at the same time. And just when you think it can't get any worse, there's a horrible bathsoap twang on the finish. "Hoppy with citrus notes" says the pumpclip. It lies, reader. It. Lies.
I promised you last summer that I'd try the second beer in the Robinson's Iron Maiden series if and when I saw it. And here it was: Trooper 666, a dark gold strong ale at 6.6% ABV. It's rather dull. There's kind of an appley buzz, a sort of damp woody autumnal log pile thing. Not unpleasant, but not especially interesting either. I suppose if you just want something to get you to Stagger Town in short order, the smooth bland stylings of this one will do the job, especially at €2.50 a pint.
I was smiled upon by the bar gods, if not the road safety ones, for round two, when I ordered three more thirds but got given three halves. First up, Acorn Barnsley Bitter: nice brown booze. There's a lot of caramel in this, pretty much at Irish red sweetness levels. The hop contribution is limited to a tiny tinny metallic tang on the end and the only other complexity is a fun and farty sulphurous aroma. I'm sure it's doing everything it's supposed to, but it's just too sugary for my liking.
A totally random pick next: the enigmatic-sounding Bruges best bitter by Hydes, part of its Provenance series of geographically-inspired beers. This is gold coloured and at first tasted like one of the musty Caledonian beers, but there's something else going on too. Described as "spicy" on the badge it's a weird sort of incense or aftershave note. Where must meets musk. That little bit of interest aside, it's not much of a beer: thin and one-dimensional, and another bitter that isn't bitter but sweet. Bah!
Last of this set was one of the more intriguing options. Yes it's from the Marstons hit-and-miss Revisionist range, but Irish Peated Ale? Wut? "Sumptuous smoke entwines with roast malts and caramel tones." Entwines! What this really is is a half-pint of bog water. Massively peaty, yes, but with nothing backing it up. The body is thin and the dark malt that gives it its garnet colour has very little to say for itself. This is a novelty beer, but only just. I hope the brewer enjoyed the result of the experiment because I doubt many drinkers will.
And on that bitchy note, off to Dún Laoghaire, more out of force of habit than anything else. The Forty Foot was buzzing, the kitchen was backed up and the tiny range of festival beers restored my faith in the general haplessness of Irish Wetherspoons. Everards Yakima was pouring, however, so I cleared some dirty glasses from a spare table and sat down to try it. It's OK: a warming and toasty red ale with a little bit of hoppy resin but not really enough. It ends up tasting like a watery shop-brand floor cleaner, inoffensive but not really getting the job done. The raspberry ruffle fudge thing is the reason I normally give hoppy reds the swerve. This one confirms my prejudice.
The festival finishes up this Sunday though you may still find some of the special beers on for a while afterwards. I expect all the Pacific will be gone, though, if the regulars have any sense.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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