20 June 2016

Kerry gold

Late May saw the second Killarney Beer Festival take place at the Gleneagle Hotel and once again I made the trip down for one of the country's top beer events. I was on judging duty this year but still managed to get a taste of all the unfamiliar beers from the twenty beer stands in the main tent.

The locals were well represented and Killarney Brewing Company, just up the street from the festival, had a new saison called Spailpín. Pretty good it was too: a modest 5.5% ABV with the classic fruit and grain saison aroma and a flavour which stacks bitter orange rind against crisp dry crackers. Classic thirst-quenching stuff and I wasn't even slightly surprised when it was awarded the show's best Belgian-style beer.

Killarney's other brewery, Torc, also took a prize for their salt-and-coriander German-style beer Anything Gose. As the style has become more popular, finding a straight gose has become a little difficult. This one perhaps lacked the cleanness of Leipzig classic Bayerischer Bahnhof, but had oodles of refreshment power. The texture was light and fluffy, there was a generous dose of coriander and yet it avoided tasting any way soapy. Its sourness is a little muted but it does leave that lovely sea-salty residue on the lips. And all at just 4% ABV. It deserves to be quaffed in quantity all summer.

Moving further afield to Dingle, West Kerry Brewery had two that were new to me, both dark. The Festive IBA only passed my way fleetingly but I got a strong impression of its smooth, rich and roasty character, livened with sparks of citrus zest. There's warming dark fruit deep down in the flavour -- blackberries in particular -- and a spike of roasted dryness. Balanced, complex and interesting, this one.

Its companion had the folksy name of Uncle Columb's Mild and it's another smooth and roasty one, this time a bright shade of garnet. It's full bodied for just 3.5% ABV with a wholesome cakey sweetness and more of those lightly tart blackberries. Poured cool from the cask it was surprisingly quenching on a sunny afternoon. I'd really love to see more of this kind of beer out in the real world. Properly looked after, of course.

Kerry-based contractors Crafty Divils had their second beer on the go: a 4.3% ABV amber ale called Iron Bridge. The style designation is somewhat notional and it's really much closer to Irish red or English bitter, toffee and tannins being the main feature. But it's not especially sweet and certainly not sticky, the clean simple flavour making it an enjoyable sessionable pub beer. Nice label too.

Side-stepping to Cork, 9 White Deer was pouring Fia, a crisp and lightly fruity Kölsch-a-like that's bang on the style, while Mountain Man had a new IPA: Banjo'd, brewed at the brand's third host brewery Brú. It's 5% ABV with a sharp citrus aroma and notes of peach plus an earthier red apple effect and even a touch of pear. Overall, clean and refreshing, and very enjoyable to drink.

The Dew Drop Inn in Co. Kildare had a stand with its two house beers, which the guys have produced at their neighbouring brewery, Trouble. '96 is an oatmeal pale ale, the standard hazy orange colour and quite harshly bitter. It's big on pine and lemon rind, with that scrubbed-toilet effect I've come to associate with Citra hops, though Target and Ella are the advertised varieties. Some oily dank helps round it out and while it's not easy drinking it is good. Its companion is a white IPA called Forbidden Fruit. This is a good example of the style -- light and accessible, soft of texture with gentle orange and lemon flavours. I was surprised it's as strong as 5.5% ABV.

Carlow Brewing has gone all-in with its own white IPA, Freebird, though it's a little lower in ABV at 5%. Rakau and Amarillo are the hops but the flavour is dominated by massive coriander and orange peel. While looking an innocent clear yellow, this is a loud and brash beer and while definitely not lacking in flavour I imagine it won't be to everyone's taste.

We finish with the two breweries representing Wexford, both of which brought a sizeable range of specials and one-offs to attract the tickers. Arthurstown Pils is a beer the brewery makes presumably for use at its home hotel Dunbrody House. It's not a great example of the style, being a bit too hot 'n' heavy, with greasy banana esters and some woody phenols. There's a light hoppy sharpness in the foretaste, but not enough to carry the off-flavours away. Amber IPA is a new style on me but I don't think Arthurstown's did it justice. The aroma is sickly and the texture heavy with sugar. It tastes of boiled sweets and a lot of buttery diacetyl. The only relief comes from a light pepper spicing but again one good feature does not suffice to make it a decent beer.

Similarly sickly smelling was Arthurstown's Rum & Oak Porter, but it's sufficiently attenuated that the aroma is where it stops. It's dry and quite light bodied for 5.7% ABV and of course there's a fair whack of vanilla to it. Fun and complex, but maybe just for the one. And the joker in their pack was Oak-A-Cola, a 4.7% ABV red ale, wood-aged and infused with cola essence. It sounds awful but it works extremely well. The cola dominates both the aroma and the flavour, herbal and sweet with the same sort of dry carbonic twang, but there's just enough malt character left, especially in the texture, to remind you that you're really drinking a beer. A gimmicky novelty, sure, but tremendous fun.

That just leaves Wexford Town's YellowBelly. Night Porter has been on the brewing roster there for a while now, I think, but I hadn't encountered it before. This is a whopping 7.2% ABV and smells weird: tangy and twangy, and somewhat autolytic. It gels together on tasting, however, all smooth and smoky with rich dark chocolate, a heavy bitterness, hot alcohol and woody burnt cork. Insanely complex, it tastes incredibly old-fashioned and makes for really interesting drinking.

Zë Germans is a pale ale which owes its name to the use of Hüll Melon hops. It's balanced rounded and fruity, showing juicy notes of peach and nectarine as well as honeydew. That's your lot though: I guess this is designed as a refreshing quencher, a task it performs well.

Last tick of the festival is The Passion, Ireland's second passionfruit lager in recent months, and ever. I much preferred this to Trouble Brewing's Last Crash. Here the lager character has been dialled all the way back to provide a clean base, 4.4% ABV, maybe a touch of grain flavour and nothing more. The fruit, meanwhile, is fresh and sinfully juicy -- sweet without being sickly and adding a bitter complexity to the pinkness. It's still a very silly beer, of course, but seriously well made and, like the Oak-A-Cola, great fun to drink.

Cheers to all the breweries who made the effort to set up stall in Killarney, and congratulations to all who won prizes in the competition. Until 2017, then.

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