22 September 2016

Ballsbridge and beyond

Wrapping up the reviews of 2016's Irish Craft Beer Festival at the RDS, today it's beers from Connacht and Ulster, as well as blow-ins and break-outs.

I did a short spell tending the pumps at N17 where there were a couple of lovely stouts and N17 Festival Ale, an English-style golden ale at 4.5% ABV. I think it was coming to the end of the cask by then as I got a bit of a murky sample but it was still possible to taste that there's a very good beer in here, classically English with a honey and flower sweetness balanced by gentle lemon from the First Gold dry hopping. Beers like this are far too rare in these parts.

I also did some pint-pulling duty across the hall at N17's host brewery Reel Deel. As it happened Marcus had two unfamiliar beers in his line-up. General Humbert is badged as both an ale and a lager depending on where you look, and is really one of those pseudo-lagers utilising clean-burning ale yeast Danstar Nottingham. It's dry and thirst quenching with just enough noble hop vegetable greenness to keep it interesting. Next to it was Finn's Knowledge, displaced Yorkshireman Marcus's attempt at a Yorkshire bitter. It's an appropriate pale gold and 4.5% ABV. The waxy bitterness which for me is the hallmark of the style is definitely present and it's also rather dry, with a very English metallic hop bite. It's solid and unexciting, not trying too hard to impress, so mission accomplished, I guess.

To Independent Brewing next, and a Festival IPA they'd brought, a big one at 7.6% ABV. It's fun and sweet, smelling like a fruit chew while tasting unctuous and resiny. That chew sweet thing seems to be a calling card of Vic Secret hops, employed here with Ella and Ahtanum. I'd be interested to try more than a sample of this recipe: it has the makings of something interesting as long as it can avoid the malt building up to the point of getting cloying, and that's something difficult to judge with just one small plastic cupful among many other beers.

Féile Spraoi is the name of Carrig's latest addition, a witbier. I think this may have been so new as to have been a little green as I detected a certain out-of-character sulphurousness about it, the sort of thing I'd expect to mellow out after a couple of weeks. Beyond this it's simple, decent and refreshing, lacking bells and whistles, and indeed clangers and klaxons.

Also from the north-west, Kinnegar had brought One for Ronan, Belgian-style amber ale brewed in tribute to a departed friend. Though a mere 6.5% ABV this could almost pass for a dubbel, being dense and quite hot, loaded with typical esters as well as a bourbon biscuit chocolate quality that grows as it gets warmer. It's smoother than a dubbel, however, and would make for a great winter beer if it lasts that long.

A couple of pockets of foreign beers rounded out the hall. On one side Grand Cru beers was running a Colorado stall for Ska, Left Hand, Oskar Blues and Odell. From the latter of these Wally kindly gave me a sample of Broombere, a gose with blackberries. I'm expecting something sugary and woeful but it really is a proper gose with all the herb and salt flavours that come with. The blackberry provides no more than a lacing to this and helps accentuate the gentle tartness. It's very drinkable and surprisingly subtle.

Meanwhile, down at the end of the hall, there was much interest in Beavertown's outpost. I came to it quite late and managed to snaffle only a quickie taster of Wit or Melon, a witbier using Hüll Melon hops. How do they think up the names? It's super juicy; a real chin dribbler, packed with jaffa and mandarin flavours but also a lovely aftershave spiciness to keep it from getting too sweet. There is a little bit of a yeast bite, but nothing that interferes with the flavour. I drank it on a numb palate on the last evening but it still managed to impress me.

Finally a bit of ambush marketing by Rising Sons. They weren't at the festival but, unbeknownst to me, the Cork-based chain the brewery belongs to also has a footprint in Dublin, not far from the RDS: Arthur Mayne's in Donnybrook. It was here that brewer Shane came to launch his latest on the Friday night: Orange Crush, a Berliner Weisse and this time with real oranges and mandarins included. The ABV is a little on the high side at 4.1% but it's still basically on-style, showing enough tartness to be refreshing without going full-pucker, and with a distinct crunchy grain base, usually the first part of the flavour profile to vanish when something else gets added in. The fruit adds a slight sweetness, tipping the balance away from dry and sour just the right amount to give a beautifully elegant quaffing refresher. On a warm September's night after an evening in a crowded festival hall it was the perfect pick-me-up before I headed home.

Cheers to the festival organisers and all the brewers I bothered over the weekend. The September festival is always an enjoyable gig, as much for who you meet as what you get to drink. If you're getting festive in Cork this weekend, have a great one.

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