21 March 2018

Time for cask

Spoonsfest fairly sneaks up on you. It seems like no time since the autumn one. My excuse for not braving the northside this time was the weather: Beast From The East 2 was still blowing up a storm on Monday last, so it was Dún Laoghaire and no further.

The first beer to catch my eye was War Lord, a red IPA from the normally-reliable Purity. It arrived a slightly murky copper colour, smelling like a basket of ripe summer fruits. This is no sugar bomb, however. It's nice and dry with plenty of refreshing tannins. At 5% ABV there's enough substance to keep it from being thin or harsh, and while the billed Chinook, Galaxy and Simcoe hops don't seem to have been used to any great effect, there's a pleasant background fruitiness, if nothing you'd actually describe as bittering. Overall a good opening pint, and just the refresher I needed after the headwind and sea spray.

Greene King's Heritage Pale Ale had been attracting a bit of publicity in the UK, over whether it did or didn't show off the characteristics of the Chevallier barley it's brewed with. I can't speak to that but I do know that my third arrived an attractive golden amber topped by a steady foam. A creamy texture leads on to a flavour that's also creamy... no wait... buttery. Once you notice the diacetyl it's hard to think of anything else. There's a tiny bitter pinch from the noble hops but no other flavours to speak of. Definitely nothing that makes it taste other than a mediocre brown bitter.

I had higher hopes for the Oakham beer, Attila. This is the token strong beer of the festival: 7.5% ABV and given six months ageing in the cask. It looks innocent, a clear gold, but has a sticky, syrupy feel with plenty of alcohol heat, like a super-strength lager. There's lots of warming fruit in the flavour. The notes say elderflower and I concur fully. I'd also add pale sherry, red apples and crunchy oat cookies. While fun for the first sips it gets very cloying after a few mouthfuls. I was very glad to only have a third of it.

Number three in this set wasn't part of the festival line-up, being a leftover from the just-finished Six Nations. It's a brown bitter from JW Lees called Game On. My lack of faith in rugby-specials, shaken by Conwy here, is restored. This is terrible, all thin and soapy. A hint of sticky caramel is the only other nod towards proper beer flavour. It was easier to knock back than the Oakham one, but that's about all that can be said in its favour.

Bookending this visit is another copper-coloured one, Dakota Red by Welsh brewery VOG. I'm not sure quite what to make of this. The first impression is harshly stale and grainy: on a third I'd probably have written it off there. But that's hiding a strong hop bitterness, an old-fashioned, old-world, metallic punch, by which I'm kind-of charmed. As it warms, the hard edges smooth out and the hop flavour comes more to the fore. It's still a little severe, acidic to the point of vomity, but not a total wash-out. One pint was still plenty, mind.

To the Three Tun in Blackrock, then, for the altogether calmer atmos and whatever else is available. Salopian's Bertza stout was the sole other representative of the festival. They claim chocolate and mocha for this 5.5%-er, and that's arguably present, though leaning heavily on the bitterly dark coffee roast. Unfortunately it's overlaid with a rubbery savoury putty thing that ruined the party for me. I like the texture, and I get what it's trying to be, but this instance just isn't clean enough to get a pass.

It wouldn't be a Wetherspoon festival trip without me having a go at a Caledonian beer. The festival one wasn't on at the Three Tun, but there was Edinburgh Castle, a 4.1% ABV red ale. It smells hot and buttery and stale, so typical Caledonian. The flavour presents acrid vinegar in front of that, then husky oatmeal and cloying golden syrup. I will accept that this particular cask may have expired, but I firmly believe there was no decent beer to begin with. Classic Caledonian.

As usual for the Wetherspoon festival, there's a small amount of gold in the dreck. At least it doesn't cost much to find it.