16 August 2017

The Kilkenny Strategem

Early July saw the third iteration of the Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival, spread across five days and multiple sub-events during the week. It's the brainchild of Kilkenny brewer Ger Costello and serves a higher purpose than simply creating an occasion for lots more beers than usual to be available to the drinking public. Threaded through the schedule and forming the backbone of the whole thing is the Kilkenny Ale Trail. Here, a number of pubs and restaurants in the city -- ones that so far haven't been too concerned with the independent brewers' wares -- have been paired with a Leinster brewery which doesn't routinely distribute locally. A leaflet allows locals and visitors to follow the trail throughout the week, bringing footfall to pubs that wouldn't otherwise get it, and additional share-of-throat for the brewers. It's a clever and noble idea, and Ger very much intends it to act as the thin end of a beery wedge, aiming to make the local outlets think more about the beers they're offering and perhaps making the arrangement permanent. In that sense, it's perhaps more appropriate to think of Kilkenny Craft Beer Festival as "Kilkenny Craft Beer Week", and there's a good model there, if any other towns would care to adopt it.

There was a festival in the traditional sense in the line-up, held in the spacious and comfortable beer garden of Billy Byrne's pub on the Saturday afternoon. Ger very kindly invited me to come along for a looksee. All of the participating Ale Trail brewers had beers on offer: Trouble, Rascals, Stone Barrel, O Brother and Hope. Costellos had a couple of taps on the board as well, of course, and with a brand new brewkit to play with, had even produced a special for the occasion.

Costellos Coconut IPA was the offering in question. It's not a style one sees a lot of, to say the least, so I was sceptical. It's not quite a brand new recipe either, having been constructed from Costellos' Beyond A Pale IPA with added toasted coconut, and then blended back with more of the beer until the desired level of coconuttiness was achieved. It looks like the base beer, being a bright and hazy orange colour. And it still smells like a hoppy pale ale. The coconut aroma sits comfortably beside the beer one, neither integrating nor interfering with it. The extra addition really makes itself felt on tasting, giving so much of the classic oily sweet Bounty-bar flavour that I'd probably have mistaken this for a dark beer if I hadn't seen it already. It does largely drown out the hop flavour, which is unfortunate, leaving just a pithy bitterness in the finish. For all that, I enjoyed the beer. It's certainly novel, and I can tolerate the gimmickry when the end result is perfectly pleasant to drink, like this was.

A big congratulations to Ger and the team. The Ale Trail is still up on the website, if you want to call in to the participants and see if they're still stocking the independents.

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