12 December 2016

Numero tre

Year three of Quartiere in Fermento and the format switched again. What had previously been Dublin's Italian beer festival now rowed back on that side a little and added in some bonus content: Italian wine, Estonian cider and Irish beer as well. Otherwise the formula was pretty similar, with an awning in the Millennium Walkway under which was a makeshift bar. They got a beautiful crisp November evening for it as well. I was along early (figurative) doors to get stuck in to the substantial number of new beers.

To the Italians first, that being the main purpose of the occasion. Sardinian brewery Barley had the most new ones, cheating slightly by bringing bottles rather than setting up draught. My opener was a 7.8% ABV pale ale called Macca Meda. It's pale orange and smells of cedarwood then gets more extreme from there. There's a very hot and boozy rum-soaked banana flavour, with an added brown sugar sweetness and a bitter liquorice kick at the finish. Stylewise it could pass as a dark tripel, brown enough even to be an overclocked dubbel, but either way we're definitely in the strong and estery Belgian zone, which wasn't really where I wanted to be at this point.

There was something similar going on with Barley's Sella del Diavolo, though it was only 6.5% ABV. The other members of the afternoon drinking shift liked it but again I found it too hot, this time mixing in asparagus and clove rock with the sickly brown sugar and Belgian esters. It was time to take a break from Barley.

When I came back to them it was for Duenna, their saison. This was much more to my liking and featured some of my favourite things about saison: soft stonefruit juiciness and a sparkly gunpowder spice. There's a sizeable dash of violet or lavender in there too which pushes it towards bathsalts, but it doesn't go too far, staying fresh and light and happy.

Friska was next, a witbier which shows very clearly on the label which Flemish classic it's trying to mimic. It's an appropriate bright yellow colour and smoothly textured. It opens with a quick sharp burst of citrus, a lemon meringue pie effect, and then there's a long spumante frothiness but not much behind it. Unfortunately there's none of the herbal flavours of good witbier, including Hoegaarden, and as such this one lacks complexity. It's simple and perfectly palateable, but rather dull. Witbier may not be the most exciting style in the world, but it can be more interesting than this.

Last one from Barley is the big one: BB10, an imperial stout with grape must. I was intrigued. The beer's opening gambit is a raucous pink-nosed dollop of port wine, bursting at the seams with ripe old grape fruit, accentuated by a strong but integrated oak barrel character that lends it an air of Pedro Ximenez sherry or tawny port. Despite all this decadent sumptuousness, and an ABV of 10%, it's nicely dry, cleaned up by the grape tannins leaving it smooth and sinkable. Sure, the stout character gets lost in everything else, but it hardly matters: this is one of those Italian masterpieces that belongs to no style because it's all style. Truly glorious drinking.

There was just one new beer from Quartiere veteran Montegioco, a fruited version of their Runa pale ale named Quarta Runa. Peaches were the addition but the result tastes of anything but. I got coconut, lychee, kiwis, maybe a suggestion of bitter peach skin, all set on a smoothly unctuous body. Not massively complex drinking, but a fun twist on a solid beer that managed not to ruin it.

And then I sidle up to LoverBeer to see what goodies Valter has brought me this year. He's been doing a bit of hacking himself, turning out a spiced edition of D'Uvabeer called A Renna Glüh. D'Uvabeer, as the name suggests, is another grape-based beer. It makes sense that for Christmas he'd add some mulled wine spices in there. The integrity of the main beer is preserved in the blend: it still has a soft and juicy grape flavour, capable of quenching the thirst even at 8% ABV. The spices merely run interference against this, woody, like the bits of cinnamon and clove you end up fishing out of your mulled wine glass. While they don't ruin the beer, they don't enhance it either. The clean and sharp D'Uvabeer is still visible here, and personally I'd prefer if the spices weren't obstructing the view.

There was also another one in LoverBeer's Saison De L'Ouvrier series. This one is called Serpilla and is named after the herb added to it, a local variant of thyme. It's a murky yellow colour with a pleasantly effervescent softness. The thyme flavour is huge and leaves little space for any other taste characteristics. It's a fun novelty for a few sips but I got bored of it fairly quickly.

And so to the sole Irish representative at the festival, Otterbank, the specialist in sour and barrel-aged beers, operating out of YellowBelly in Wexford. He's not one for fancy names, is Declan, so we got:

Oak Fermented, a 4.5% ABV sour blonde which was fermented in an ex-Chardonnay barrel. It smells sweetly of passionfruit but smacks the palate with a serious puckering tartness. This is a hit-and-run job because it's immediately followed by juicy tinned pineapple and then a light white wine grape flavour, the sharpness making it seem more like Sauvignon Blanc than Chardonnay to me. However you pick it apart, it was a beautiful start.

To follow, Brett Chardonnay (also available as a porn name), a 9% ABV stout. Unsurprisingly, it smells funky, the sort of farmyard aroma that seems to be accentuated in dark Brett-infused beers, plus a tiny whiff of oaked grape as well. I was expecting dry and acrid but it's remarkably smooth, the flavour flecked with dark chocolate and vanilla, while at the same time avoiding becoming sticky or hot. It's very nicely put together and not the sort of beer you meet very often.

Perhaps that's the reason it was the first Otterbank beer to sell out, replaced by another dark one, Brett Noir. This is a bit more typical, with a roasted aroma and quite a sticky flavour, the red wine element reminding me somewhat of retsina. There's caramel and molasses in the mix as well but it remains very drinkable, especially with the ABV notched up to 9.5%.

And just on my way out I caught the tapping of Oak Aged, a soft and fluffy Berliner weisse with grape and peach notes, but my scrawled notes make no mention of actual oak. With 12 beers under my belt at this stage you can draw your own conclusions as to why that might have been.

Congratulations to Fionn for running another superb event. Hopefully next year he'll be pouring his own beers, and from tasting the couple of samples being passed around on the evening it's going to be a brilliant addition.